On the DCA’s website it is claimed that fans of the TV show Spiral would be the perfect audience for Mains Armées (or Armed Hands), the new film from director Pierre Jolivet. I have never seen this show but, from what I’ve garnered from the reviews spread across the press and on the internet, it appears that, through its gritty and unapologetically honest approach to the police drama, Spiral is the French answer to The Wire. The Wire is a show that I hold in very high regard and I am a fan of modern French film in general. Therefore, I take little pleasure from giving Mains Armées a resoundingly mediocre review.
The film tells the story of a French Police Captain named Lucas Scali ( Roschdy Zem) who, alongside his team of officers, is searching for a stolen shipment of arms. The case is complicated by its connection to a narcotics investigation that is being undertaken by Scali’s estranged daughter, Maya (Leïla Bekhti). Zem and Bekhti are well cast in their leading roles for two reasons. Firstly, while they are of higher profile in France, they are not well known across the globe. This allows a foreign audience to believe in their characters more, as we are not distracted by expectations from their other roles. Secondly, Zem and Bekhti have worked together several times prior to Mains Armées and, consequently, they play off each other well in this film. They give very naturalistic and believable performances as father and daughter. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the performances from the rest of the cast. While none of the supporting actors in the film are complete failures, the parts they play are very minor and are not imbued with sufficient personality to make these characters particularly memorable. It could be argued that this adds to the realism of the film, given that people in real life are typically less interesting than characters that appear on screen. It seems, however, that the deficiencies of the supporting roles lie in the quality of the writing and performances. One exception to this is Marc Lavoine’s skin-crawlingly captivating performance as corrupt police lieutenant Julien Bass.
The desire for realism in the film has resulted in a style of direction that is restrained enough so that the audience never becomes aware of the fact that they are watching a film. Thankfully, Jolivet stays away from gimmicks such as “shaky-cam” in attempting to make the film appear more “real”. It is a very slick and understated production and is all the better for that fact.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the film’s plot, even though its basic concept is quite interesting. The two investigations reuniting father and daughter, and the tensions this causes, could have made for engaging viewing. This is spoiled, however, by the way Mains Armées goes about presenting its story. Plot points appear out of nowhere while others simply vanish without conclusion. At times, the story seems to skip a scene, disrupting the flow of the film and potentially confusing the audience. The film is simply too difficult to follow and it is a flaw that sinks an otherwise promising viewing experience.
Mains Armées is by no means a terrible film. It simply does not impress. The elements are in place for an entertaining viewing experience but the confusing plot and lack of developed characters stop this from occurring. From a reviewer who very much wanted to enjoy the film, the only reaction can be disappointment. From a reviewer who very much wanted to enjoy the film, the only reaction can be disappointment. If Mains Armées is passable, it is not deliberately worth heading to the cinema to see.