Consider it an olive branch. We’re really not so different after all, are we? Deep in our hearts, haven’t we always known that the French love guns, explosions, and fiery conflagrations just as much as any red-blooded American? Now, with The Nest, they’ve proven it.
Think of it as the perfect 1980s action film, just a little late, the magnum opus Chuck Norris forgot to make. Cars explode, construction equipment is used to rip structures apart, rooms are set ablaze, and thousands upon thousands of rounds of ammunition are spent, and it takes a lot of work just to figure out why.
The filmmakers don’t waste any time on exposition, so I’ll try to makes some sense of it. It’s Bastille Day, and most of France is busy doing what Americans do on our Independence Day — watching fireworks, lounging by the ocean or the pool, eating … well, whatever the French eat when we eat hotdogs. A gang of thieves consisting of Nasser (Samy Naceri), Santino (Benoît Magimel), Selim (Sami Bouajila), Nadia (Anisia Uzeyman), and Martial (Martial Odone) are attempting to rob a warehouse of a large shipment of laptop computers. While their actions aren’t noble, it’s made clear these are loveable movie crooks. In their very first scene, the five of them whistle and sing the theme from The Magnificent Seven on their way to the caper (one even does the human beatbox). Isn’t that cute?
Meanwhile, a group of police led by Lieutenant Laborie (Nadia Farès) and her married former lover Giovanni (Valerio Mastandrea) are in an armored van transporting an Albanian, Abedin Nexhep (Angelo Infanti), to his trial in Strasbourg. Nexhep is one nasty mother, the kingpin of a crime syndicate that kidnaps young women, brands them like cattle with Nexhep’s insignia and a number, and puts them to work selling their bodies on the streets of various western European countries.
Like any good kingpin, Nexhep has some damned loyal followers. They kill a bus driver to create a pileup on the highway, forcing the van to detour down a road where the syndicate’s mini-army is lying in wait. A gun battle wipes out the entourage escorting the van, but resourceful Lieutenant Laborie manages to dodge the rocket launcher aimed at her head and get to safety — in the very warehouse where the loveable thieves are packing up their booty.
What follows is a complex series of attacks and retreats, as the police and the thieves forge a tenuous alliance in order to defend themselves from the well-armed horde surrounding them. The film’s French title is Nid de guêpes, meaning “the wasps’ nest,” an apt description for the situation created in the warehouse. The army outside is faceless and seemingly numberless; the cops and the thieves shoot them and knock them off buildings by the dozen, but they keep coming and coming.
We never learn anything, really, about the attackers, so we don’t mind watching as they’re slaughtered. Unfortunately, we learn little more about our heroes. There are too many of them, too little dialogue, and virtually no effort expended making us care about them, so they remain schematic. When a cop or a thief dies, you may find yourself rewinding to see if you can place the face.
Regardless of his lack of interest in character development, director and co-writer Florent Emilio Siri is certainly stylish. The movie has a sleek look, all hard edges and fast motion. Long steadicam and crane shots move the viewer around and through the action, and the jumpy editing style keeps things moving at a bracing clip. It’s a very American style of filmmaking and also, as implied earlier, somewhat dated. It lacks the multicultural feel that so many contemporary action films derive from their stylistic borrowings from Hong Kong and Japan.
The overall feel is of an homage, a love letter, if you will, to American filmmaking. So even if it is all style and no substance, who are we not to accept?
There aren’t any. There are, however, some interesting language options. There is the choice of listening to the dialogue in the original French or dubbed into English, with or without English or Spanish subtitles. The English dubbing is generally good — it’s well integrated into the other soundtrack elements and the voice actors deliver credible performances and convincing French and Italian accents. It is somewhat troubling, though, that all of the darker-skinned cast members are dubbed with stereotypical African-American accents. Perhaps it’s another tribute to our esteemed Hollywood traditions.
Jeremy C. Fox is a founding critic of Pajiba and a member of the Online Film Critics Society.You may email him at jeremycfox[at]gmail.com.
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()