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Rapt | Review

Writer-director Belvaux’s multi-pronged kidnap drama lets plot get in the way of a good story.

Belgian writer-director Lucas Belvaux’s occasionally pulse lifting, but mostly run-of-the-mill kidnap thriller Rapt will be marketed as a ripped-from-the-headlines drama anticipating the real-life controversy that now surrounds IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Don’t believe the hype: The current tabloid scandal is much more decadently revealing. Based on actual events from 1978, the present-set movie spreads itself thin between routines of deadline-driven police procedural, beard-growing deprivation fetish, and the psychological unhinging of the family left behind to discover the embarrassing, though never truly sordid, details of their father-husband-son’s personal life. Yvan Attal’s committed, complex turn as the kidnapped titan of finance is greater than its confines; plot demands never allow his character to fully come to monstrously detached life. A richer and more unusual movie would have done away with the genre exercises and instead started with the moral question mark that this one finishes with.

Attal stars as Stanislas Graff, a wealthy and powerful Parisian capitalist who capably compartmentalizes his decorous family life and naughty after-hours sin seeking. One violent kidnapping later, he exchanges the trappings of luxury for the squalid indignities of hostage-hood. Surely, the ransom of 50 million euros should be easy for the relatives and associates of a man of such means to raise. But somehow everyone back at home keeps finding excuses not to fork it over. Cut off from news in his captivity, a bewildered, mangy Graff starts to wonder: Why is no one paying my ransom?

The premise seems a natural fit for the brutal cynicism of Bunuel-ian social satire, but Belvaux doesn’t have the anger, gall, or directorial chops to even attempt it. Instead, he delivers a movie that isn’t sure what it’s supposed to be. When it tries to be a sweat-soaked suspense ride, it often creaks and wheezes. In particular, a set-piece helicopter chase sequence never gets its engine going and comes to a sputtering finish.

When it tries to be a domestic psychodrama, it only skirts the surface. As Graff’s oblivious at first, then excuse-prone wife, Anne Consigny is never able to wriggle out of the one-dimensional straitjacket of her role. She needs a more sensitive director like Arnaud Desplechin to comprehend her subtle virtues.

Many directors would have gotten more out of this material. Fellow French filmmaker Catherine Breillat, for instance, might have used the family’s phallic loss as an excuse to open the Pandora’s Box of the women’s secret hostilities and desires, the deeper needs that the conformities of wealth and comfort have previously kept in check.

Belvaux inches in this direction, but never gets very far. In the most wasted opportunity, Graff’s two teen daughters are never more than superficially individualized, and never given their own private setting apart from the shared domestic scenes. They chime in, or lob an easy set-up for one of the higher-billed actors’ monologues. As a result, they and their disapproval are mere story props rather than distinct entities. Would a more daring (and cheaper) movie have chosen to focus on the daughters’ unraveling, to explore the pathologies that might present when pressure is put on the already volatile adolescent psyche?

As an actor, Yvan Attal has the gift of inscrutability, and a natural disinterest in pleading his character’s case for audience sympathy. He goes far towards creating a man whose ordeal intensifies a defining tendency to live above and beyond the moorings of family, friends, morality, ethics — a terrifyingly unbound, thrillingly unscrupled master of the universe, a true villain of our times. This would be an exciting character to watch Attal explore … just don’t expect much of it in Belvaux’s unambitious flatliner.

Rating 2 stars

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Ryan Brown is a filmmaker and freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY. He has an MFA in Media Arts from City College, CUNY. His short films GATE OF HEAVEN and DAUGHTER OF HOPE can be viewed here: With Antonio Tibaldi, he co-wrote the screenplay 'The Oldest Man Alive,' which was selected for the "Emerging Narrative" section of IFP's 2012 Independent Film Week. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Almodóvar (Live Flesh), Assayas (Cold Water), Bellochio (Fists in the Pocket), Breillat (Fat Girl), Coen Bros. (Burn After Reading), Demme (Something Wild), Denis (Friday Night), Herzog (The Wild Blue Yonder), Leigh (Another Year), Skolimowski (Four Nights with Anna), Zulawski (She-Shaman)

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