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Richard Berry’s French crime film “22 Bullets” (aka L’immortel”) is 80% Jean Reno and 20% brutal violence. If you’re keeping score, that’s not such a bad balance to have in a movie. Set against the backdrop of the French underworld, it stars Reno, the epitome of French cool, as Charly Mattei, a retired French gangster who discovers that retirement ain’t so easy. When his past comes back to haunt him in the form of 22 bullets pumped into his twisting body one lazy weekend, Charly resolves to find the culprits responsible.
His search leads him to drug kingpin Tony Zacchia (Kad Merad), one of Charly’s very close friends from his youth. Apparently ol Tony has not kept his bond of “friends til death”, which means Charly has to decide whether to exact revenge on a very good friend or forgive the trespass. Alas, soon even forgiveness is taken away from him, and Charly is left with no choice but to end matters the only way an ex-gangster who made his bones on the corpses of his enemies knows how – by leaving behind a lot of dead bodies in his wake, of course.
That is, unless police Detective Marie Goldman (Marina Fois) stops him first. The persistent cop recently lost her policeman husband to a gangland slaying, something that still haunts her. Marie suspects Zacchia, but has no evidence; and indeed, her bosses seem incline to forget the whole thing ever happened. There is an additional subplot about Marie and a convict who may or may not be stalking her, but apparently the filmmakers got bored of it almost as quickly as we did. Marie is charged with investigating the attempt on Charly’s life, but eventually comes to realize that in order to get justice, sometimes you have to give the law a slap or two.
There are other characters in the film, but Charly, Marie, and the eccentric Zacchai, one of those obsessive compulsive types with violent tendencies, are at the center. Berry and his co-writers (adapting from a novel by Franz-Olivier Giesbert) does quite well to spread the screentime around to other members of the cast. Even the shooters who tried to do Charly in get their individual moments in the spotlight, though admittedly most of them feel perfunctory, as does a brief glimpse into the home life of one of Charly’s men. Which makes the fact that we know absolutely nothing about another member, the only woman in the group, very strange.
Revenge films like “22 Bullets” don’t really need a whole lot of “plot” to drive the narrative. And indeed, once Charly resolves to go on a killing spree, the film becomes a repetitive series of ambushes where Charly takes down the killers one by one. Marie and the cops wander around in the background, but they’re pretty superfluous to the plot. Even Marie with all her baggage feels like she’s there simply to fill up time and introduce plot points whenever one is needed. For example, it’s Marie who points out that one of the shooters purposefully missed Charly during the attempted assassination. There’s also a subplot about the amusingly anal-retentive Zacchia keeping evidences of his criminal empire on a computer, which is silly, but it does take up a couple of minutes and helps the film tie up loose ends in a neat bow.
Revenge films are inherently simple animals in term of plot, so you need a major force to front it. Chow Yun Fat in a John Woo Triad movie, or Takeshi Kitano in a Yakuza flick. Mel Gibson seeking payback in a dozen films, or Michael Caine stomping out scum in “Harry Brown”. Jean Reno is another such force. He’s too old to be doing two-fisted gun-fu like Chow Yun Fat in a John Woo movie, but if you needed a man to look cool while getting his vendetta on, you’d be hard-pressed to cast better. Reno is definitely one of the main reasons to watch “22 Bullets”, but director Richard Berry also indulges in some pretty hardcore violence. The blood flows pretty freely throughout the movie, and there are some impressive action moments that lift the “22 Bullets” above the standard form.
Richard Berry (director) / Eric Assous, Richard Berry, Alexandre de La Patellière, Mathieu Delaporte (screenplay), Franz-Olivier Giesbert (screenplay)
CAST: Jean Reno … Charly Matteï
Gabriella Wright … Yasmina Telaa
Richard Berry … Aurelio Rampoli
Kad Merad … Tony Zacchia
Marina Foïs … Marie Goldman
Fani Kolarova … Christelle Mattei
Joséphine Berry … Eva