Black Box has originality, and that is a rare treat these days. The French dramatic mystery-thriller, directed by Yann Gozlan and written by Gozlan, Nicolas Bouvet-Levrard, Jérémie Guez, and Simon Moutairou, comes with a decent dose of anti-corporate sentiments. The film follows a young black box analyst tasked with finding the truth behind a commercial plane crash that led to the death of more than 300 people.
Mathieu (Pierre Niney) is not the typical yes-man employee in the office. He has extraordinarily sharp ears and an eye for detail. He is an idealist and likes doing his assignments thoroughly, which sometimes makes him the devil’s advocate. When Mathieu is assigned the case overseeing the Atrian 800 flight crash, he soon finds out that the black box he’s analyzing contains darker secrets. But when he brings it up, everyone tries to convince him that he is just overthinking it as usual. That is when Mathieu embarks on a quest to find out the truth.
Although thrillers are supposed to be the opposite of boring, Black Box fails on this front. Perhaps the main reason is that Gozlan cannot find a balance between suspense and exposure. The first half is filled with such failed experiments. There are many scenes with tense music and atmosphere in which Mathieu is trying to uncover something new from the black box recordings, but it either ends in just another MacGuffin or takes so long that the suspense turns into frustration for the audience.
“…Mathieu is assigned the case overseeing the Atrian 800 flight crash…the black box he’s analyzing contains darker secrets.”
The film also lacks enough driving force for its story to carry the audience all through the trip. Honestly, by the end, it felt like sitting through a three-hour train ride rather than a two-hour thriller. The fact that there is something fishy about this plane crash is made obvious very early on to viewers, but it takes the protagonist more than an hour to finally find some decent clues.
However, Pierre Niney’s performance is authentic. He is a cold, introverted, and relatively distant person in all aspects of his life. He has no friends, so it probably goes without saying that his love life is not filled with never-ending passion. It isn’t easy to portray such a character, but the actor manages to pull it off.
But, the way the film points out the corruption in mega-corporations is noteworthy. As a white-collar worker, Mathieu goes a long way to rise against his corporate masters and blow the whistle on their criminality. The urge to see the end of Mathieu’s struggle is one of the few aspects of Black Box that keeps the audience in their seat.
Black Box doesn’t want to be like blockbuster thrillers, and it is not. The characters aren’t trying to be action heroes; instead, they come off as rather realistic, if a bit mundane. Even the conclusion to the story is not the “happily ever after” type that we usually see in Hollywood. Gozlan’s work is not perfect, but it’s good enough for those who want a different breed of thriller.
"…has originality, and that is a rare treat these days."