In Vegas and fretting over the $25 minimum bet on blackjack at the New York, New York casino? Take it. If you’ve got enough self-control, it’s over after three tries.
What about roulette? Black or red making you wonder exactly how much money you can stand to lose while imagining what you might gain? Go for it. At best you end up a little poorer, though wiser toward the game.
It’s better than what Sébastien (George Babluani, the director’s brother) finds himself mired in while working on the roofing of the house of Jean-Francois, an aging dope addict (Philippe Passon) who dies from an overdose, leaving Sébastien high and dry without payment. It’s bad enough to be gypped out of earned money, especially when the addict’s woman tells him that his sister is going to take over the house and who the heck knows whether she would pay him. She remarks that the sister probably won’t even come to the house.
So he swipes the envelope he had found while working, which contains information on a lucrative job that promises more money than Sébastien would have made from his roofing job. And with the black-and-white photography as well as the empty-looking Jean-Francois and the empty trains and the empty train station, we should already know what’s coming for the roofer. Writer/director Géla Babluani does not invite us to feel the dread that other filmmakers would force upon us. Sébastien is going somewhere, yes, but it is up to us to decide how we wish to feel about it. He doesn’t let us get too close to what’s going on, especially useful when Sébastien arrives at his destination. A mansion farther off in France. The money’s hot. There are gamblers. But the gamblers are the spectators. They are just as empty. Their only pursuit is the money they hope to earn from the sport at hand. Russian roulette in the round. And Sébastien is the 13th participant who will try to survive, even as the bullet count is raised and as guns are cocked, chambers are spun and the participants point the business ends of their guns at the head of the person in front of them. Around and around and around.
Of course, there are ways for players to cope with the onset of carnage that explodes in each round. A grotesquely fat bald man plays the piano while others are injected with morphine. So how do you feel about the game now? This centerpiece is one of the most tense collection of minutes you’ll find in any movie this year or in any year. It’s bad when Sébastien finds out what he’s in for, but it’s even worse in watching these men who are so eager to try to win. Never mind the cost of human life; it’s a small cost compared to the money that can be raked in. It’s the kind of comment that John McTiernan missed by a wide mile with the remake of “Rollerball.”
And for sure, you won’t be able to stop watching. It’s not about who will make it. These men with these guns don’t have any discernible personalities, a smart move so that we can try to put together our own feelings on this. Some are extremely panicked. Some know that they can’t avoid this. Whatever happens to them will happen to them and that’s that. They’re prepared for it. And when the master of ceremonies (Pascal Bongard) loudly commands the men to spin the gun chambers, it’s not a moment to back out. And then the questions continue. What happens to the bodies? What’s the process for removal after the round is over? The latter is answered right after the first round but as to the second, it’s a testament to Babluani’s skillful filmmaking that keeps us going, even as it gets darker and darker.
Unfortunately, the Internet Movie Database has a listing for an American remake in the works. If those who would see the remake could just seek out a theater to see this one, they wouldn’t have long to wait to watch the action, if that’s all they came for. And maybe they’d get a little more out of the perverse psychology of this one more than any “hotshot” American filmmaker could try for, even if that’s not what they wanted. Try imagining that possibility with a remake.