Franck is doing time on the inside for robbery, having stashed his loot in a secret location. His girlfriend and mute daughter is waiting for his release; it should only be a few months. The jail is filled with inmates who look like they belong there; balls-to-the-walls hardened criminals. However, the warden and his guards are more depraved even than the prisoners, so at one point Franck’s cell mate, a rapist who claims to be innocent, is attacked by some other prisoners with the warden’s blessing. Franck, who is pretty hardboiled himself, but basically a decent fellow, intervenes, and his reward for trying to protect his cell mate from sexual assault is an additional six months in jail.
His cell mate, Maurel, is soon released, and declared innocent, so Franck trusts this upstanding and grateful guy to give his wife a message, including where to find the stashed money. Soon, however, while still having 8 months of prison time left, Franck finds out that Maurel was guilty. He’s actually a serial killer and highly intelligent psychopath who expertly manipulates people. So Franck has to get out now to try and protect his wife and daughter from Maurel. He escapes, and spends most of the movie tracking down Maurel, while himself being chased by a capable female police detective. Maurel is cunningly planting evidence that lets Franck take the fall for all Maurel’s crimes, so it’s something of a priority for Franck not to get napped by the police.
The Prey is a solid French action thriller. The corruption of the prison guards in the beginning rubbed me the wrong way; it seemed too much of a cliché and a shock effect to have the police abuse their power to that extent. This is fiction, of course, made rougher in order to seem edgier (as seen often before), but it made me meditate on how awfully unpleasant a lot of people in many parts of the world are. There seems to be a culture of urban brawling in Britain, for instance. Lots of corrupt police in Eastern Europe. The Mafia in Italy. Torture in the Middle East. And apparently cops in France who are so abusive that they are no better than gangsters themselves.
Still, one has to assume that, in the real world, these kinds of unpleasant people are in the vast minority, while most people are decent. There is an unfortunate tendency in European movies – perhaps a counter-reaction to the happy end syndrome that characterises most American movies – to feature characters that are so “realistic” that they have almost no shred of human decency, but here, at least, we have Franck, who is basically a good guy (although a robber). As he chases Maurel, and the police chase Franck, he races ahead with the intense resolve of a truly driven man, and while I was put off by the initial negative portrayal of the prison guards, I quickly had to admit that this movie was engaging, exciting and action-packed, sometimes even nail-bitingly so. You can bet it held my attention, and you can bet most of the actors’ performances had a true-ringing realistic vibe. The movie reminded me more than a little of the recent and excellent Norwegian action drama Headhunters (2011), although The Prey is more of a thriller than a drama, and tells its story on a lesser canvas. But it is effective none the less, and a treat for any appreciator of good action thrillers.
The Prey is out on DVD today, July 23.
Director: Eric Valette
Cast: Albert Dupontel, Alice Taglioni, Stéphane Debac, Sergi López and others.
Runtime: 102 min.