A huge hit in France, Guillaume Canet's thriller began life as a thoroughly American pulp novel by bestselling author Harlan Coben, which Canet and co-screenwriter Philippe Lefevre successfully relocated to France. The film delivers the requisite twists and turns, along with car chases, gun fights and soupcon of thug life, Paris style. But Canet cares more about what random brushes with violence do to ordinary people than how totally cool spark-spraying cars and thudding bullets look.
Pediatrician Alexandre Beck (Francois Cluzet) and social worker Margot Laurentin (Marie-Josee Croze) met as children at bucolic Lake Charmaine and carved their initials in the tree that sheltered their first kiss. Their little crush deepened into true love; they got married and returned to the lake each year for a lazy trip down memory lane. And then darkness intruded on their sentimental idyll: Margot was kidnapped and murdered by notorious serial killer Frank Serton, Alex was beaten and left for dead. Eight years later, Alex works at a public clinic and occasionally socializes with his younger sister, professional equestrienne Anne (Marina Hands), and her chic girlfriend, restaurateur Helen Perkins (Kristin Scott-Thomas). Every year, on the anniversary of Margot's abduction, he visits his in-laws (Andre Dussolier, Martine Chevallier), though they no longer have much to say to each other. Margot's death mired Alex's life in a holding pattern: He's sleepwalking through the present, doesn't think about the future and tries not to dwell on the past. And then the past rears up and smacks him awake, in the form of email suggesting that Margot is alive and the news that a pair of long-buried corpses has come to light near Lake Charmaine, along with a bat stained with blood that might well be Alex's. The police reopen their long-dormant investigation, while Alex quietly begins his own; the cops find disturbing photos of a battered Margot and Alex uncovers infuriating hints that she was hiding something from him just prior to the crime. Nothing adds up, and in retrospect it never did. Alex is baffled, but the police always thought he had something to do with Margot's murder and the new evidence, puzzling though it is, convinces them they were right.
Canet and Lefevre pruned subplots and fixed the novel's ending -- it's now merely preposterous rather than patently absurd – but it's the cast that makes the genre clichés feel vivid and even fresh. The hangdog Cluzet holds the ecnter, but a raft of world-class supporting players – famous and not -- supply the fireworks. They include Nathalie Baye as a sleek celebrity lawyer; Gilles Lellouche as a thug indebted to his little boy's doctor; Francois Berleand as a French Columbo, all self-effacing shuffle and razor-sharp powers of observation; veteran character actor Jean Rochefort as a very wealthy man with a very dark secret; Eric Naggar as a sleazy lawyer and Mikaela Fisher as a nightmarish torturer.