L'immortel (22 Bullets)
The answer is quite plainly no. Although L'immortel doesn't live up to the Mesrine films, it is a good revenge film and of course there's Jean Reno in the lead with some very strong and talented French actors behind him.
By some miracle of will he survives, and protected by the police who hope to secure him as a witness, his lawyer and close friend, and his two remaining loyal henchmen, he recovers in hospital.
Yet, when he discovers who has done this to him he still does not want to act, for the revenge itself would return him to the life he gave up for his family. It takes another shocking event before he realises that the only way he's going to be free is if he returns to his old ways and seeks revenge.
The most obvious thing to be said about the film upfront is Jean Reno. There's no way you could start looking at L'immortel without bringing up the excellent Reno and his performance. He's as strong as always throughout, but he's also human and vulnerable, and there's one great scene that shows off what a great actor that Reno actually is.
Through the film his character has been making a connection with a policewoman who is going through her own personal problems. At one point he appeals to her as a parent and the emotion that starts to break on his face is quite moving and you absolutely feel for him through those scenes, unquestionably so. The power of those moments is palatable in the cinema and easily connects the audience with the character and it is obvious that the policewoman also connects with his parental feelings.
A great aspect of the film is that the lead police detective is a woman, something that you wouldn't expect to see usually, and although it does break with the norm of what you might expect, within the film it's treated as perfectly normal. What's more is that the writers haven't pampered to the fact that the character is a woman and written her as damaged and tough as any male character.
The interplay between the female detective, played by Marina Foïs, and the lead character played by Jean Reno, Charly Matteï, is nicely written. There's nothing romantic but there is the hint of respect and that these two could become friends, something that you'd find hard to see created so well in many Hollywood scripts and films.
Another strong aspect of the writing and the film itself is that there's nothing really presented as black and white, the story and the characters are all pitched in the reality of their situations – the gangsters who kill people are family men, the police don't always follow the letter of the law and sometimes do what they think may work out, that even includes working with the so-called bad guys, and in the case of some of the police, working for them.
The story carries a number of threads to it, and this can be seen at the beginning of the film where we are hurriedly, although without losing sight of any of the threads, introduced to all the characters and their situations. The script does a good job of pulling together these threads in the early sections of the film as there is quite a lot do to with a number of characters and threads being set in motion.
It does deliver some strong surprises, one of the best being that Reno's character just doesn't leap right back into the old life to protect his family, something we see all too often in revenge type films, in fact he's really reluctant to return to his old lifestyle and when he does there's not some massive change, he just gets to work.
It's also quite brutal and violent, although not needlessly. This is a film about revenge after all and about what a man will do to protect his life, his family and his future, so it can't be perfectly sanitised. The brutality takes various forms, the torture scene is quite harrowing, but not to labour the point unnecessarily, it's not as western cinema would portray it.
I know I keep saying this, but there are important distinctions here. If we were watching a western film we'd be seeing much more gore and the actual physical acts, here we don't actually see so much of the happening but we do hear much more, more is implied, and more left to the imagination, and that's the most frightening place of all.
To hear the boot hit the face of the man being tortured made me wince, and yet we didn't see that much. Again the scene with the meat cleaver and the dogs would suggest something rather unpleasant on screen, but it's all pitched perfectly in the mind, especially with the added sound.
Another hugely brutal scene is the fight through the layers of barbed wire. It's interesting that here we could perhaps do with a little more on the visuals to increase the level of discomfort for the audience, but as it is the idea of the man driving himself through reels of barbed wire again and again that makes you feel the intense agony of the scene.
With this scene, and the sequences around it, you feel his actions against the kidnapper justified, and that leads us to one of the most brutal scenes of the film, but it's needed, it's with the story, and still we don't get too close.
These sequences are really well done and build the tension well, taking the audience with them so that during those final retribution scenes the audience is totally with him, and almost willing him on. I know I was.
There are a couple of odd moments in the style of the action sequences. Sure there's a lot of shaky cam going on, but I didn't find that hard to take. What I did find odd was during the motorbike chase sequence there was something strange happening now and again which seemed artificial, I'm not sure but I've seen something similar happen before with digitally introduced camera shake in post production. I'm not entirely sure that this is the case here, but something odd happens during the sequence.
During the final car sequence on the driveway, which is admittedly short, the action is speeded up, and I just hate that because it's always obvious when it happens and sticks out like a sore thumb.
One more thing that annoyed me slightly, the inference that there's some higher level of corruption within the police that is never explored. It's a nice plot detail and used really well as it is, but I just wanted to know a little bit more than we did, perhaps a little more about the connection with the mob and who was controlling him, but then perhaps it's better we leave the film not knowing.
Despite these things the ending is strong and nicely done, providing for a lot of satisfaction and an enjoyable action revenge film that provides some nice twists, turns and touches throughout. If you are a fan of thrillers and have seen your share you might well see it coming, but I don't think that they've really set this moment up as a big surprise, it feels right that it begins to come to you as some clues are revealed and before the truth is ultimately shown by the leading character.
L'immortel, or 22 Bullets, is well written, well acted, nicely shot with plenty of style and intelligence, and of course there's Jean Reno in the lead.
The film doesn't always just go for the out and out western revenge film, piling on more horror than thriller and missing the most important elements of character and plot, it takes some time and builds these things to give us the strong base for the story. It connects us with the characters before leaping us into the action, and so when the revenge begins, we are committed to it.
Strong performances, a well written and enjoyable revenge thriller that Hollywood action stars would be fighting over to star in if it were made here.