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Yann Gozlan Black Box Review

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Black Box | Review

Black Box | Review

Guilt By Aviation: Gozlan Delivers Intrigue with Paranoia Tinged Tech Thriller

Director Yann Gozlan returns to the realm of social pariahs in his fourth film, Black Box, an elegantly constructed tech thriller hearkening back to intelligent genre films from the 1990s. Focusing on familiar themes regarding his protagonists (who always seem to be hemmed in either by their considerable specific skill sets or a lack of them), Gozlan also reunites with his 2015’s A Perfect Man (read review) headliner Pierre Niney. Slick and unexpectedly intelligent, even with its inclusion of familiar conspiracy tropes, its navigation of aviation technicalities crafted by global terrorism and evolving industrial possibilities suggests a world on a wire subjected to the same unpredictable human factor as of old. Building tension and suspense through the lens of one of those immediately recognizable, doggedly obsessive savants hellbent on self ruin to prove a hunch, Niney proves to be a seamless fit.

An acoustically sensitive black box analyst, Mathieu Vasseur (Niney) is suddenly roped into investigating a high profile crash of a brand new aircraft which went down unexpectedly. The Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) is recovered, with his more experienced colleague Victor (Olivier Rabourdin) initially dispatched. But Victor suddenly disappeared, and with their supervisor (Andre Dussollier) desperate to inform the press of what happened on the aircraft, Mathieu is pressured to deliver an analysis of the recording. Initially, it appears the crash was the result of a terrorist attack, but with certain discordant noises, Mathieu digs deeper. This ruffles feathers with his wife, Noemie (Lou De Laage), who works for the company designing these new aircrafts, specifically in the department approving the functionality of the plane’s design. When he’s told to back off, Mathieu digs deeper, compromising his relationship, career, and eventually his life because someone out there doesn’t want him to expose the truth of what really happened to the aircraft.

Yann Gozlan Black Box Review

Although not entirely surprising, Black Box does deftly weave topical red herrings into what amounts to a capitalistic corruption narrative without overextending itself on the actual technicalities of its specific realm. Details about the CVR, data manipulation and ultimately the troubling potential of aircraft malfunction are whittled down to the complex intersection of idealism and ego. Smartly, none of these details override Gozlan’s human focus, and the narrative recalls Michael Crichton’s similar 1996 aviation thriller Airframe, which at one point was poised to become a studio production in the late 90s, compromised by budget and contractual obligations.

Niney (who played a character also named Mathieu Vasseur in A Perfect Man) is believable as a man who throws away the life he’s built in pursuit of a truth not because he’s noble but because he’s satisfying his own ego. Workplace competition with his superior Oliver Rabourdin (also a favored cast member for Gozlan) sets the stage dictating Mathieu desires to prove himself, as does the certain auditory reality which barred him from success in the realm of spouse, Noemie, headhunted for a high profile position in the company which built the plane whose cutting edge mechanisms come under fire.

If there’s any real weak point, it’s perhaps the handling of Lou de Laage as Noemie, donning a slicked blonde bob meant to signify her corporate leanings. She’s merely a catalyst for the narrative’s destructive rampage to the finish, but a moment of betrayal echoes a timeless tradition of men compromising their romantic counterparts for professional gain (think Mel Gibson’s journalist sacrificing his relationship to Sigourney Weaver’s attache in The Year of Living Dangerously, his occupational desperation dictating he disclose intelligence furthering his career).

Andre Dussollier is at a consistent perfect pitch as Niney’s supervisor, while Pierre Cottereau’s cinematography is an inviting, if workmanlike gaze into the behind-the-scenes routines which could have easily stalled or stagnated the film’s sense of paranoia. Familiar but innovative, Black Box hits all the right marks as a superior thriller.

★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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