France (2008) Dir. Éric Besnard

A conman named Solal (Clovis Cornillac) is killed during a scam by a gunman from a rival gang Vincent (Mehdi Nebbou). His brother Cash (Jean Dujardin) and his crime “family” – François (François Berléand), Léa (Caroline Proust) and Fred le marin (Samir Guesmi) want revenge but have plans for another major scam to steal some diamonds from a wealthy man at a classy resort. Their plans however are interrupted by ambitious but corrupt cop Julia Molina (Valeria Golino) who saves Cash from a group of mercenaries and demands a slice of the action. A second stumbling block comes in the form of Cash’s fiancée Garance (Alice Taglioni) who Cash was intending to scam until he finds himself scammed by her and her crime boss father Maxime (Jean Reno) who force themselves into the heist by Cash, Molina and the others.

Made in 2008, this cheeky conman action comedy was suddenly released here in Old Blighty at the start of the year just as The Artist was burning up the box office. Coincidence? Anyway, initial suggestions that this is a French Ocean’s Eleven et al are hasty and quickly dispersed.

We know the leads are all criminals but just who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? With so many twists and acts of duplicity played out the lines are blurred to keep the viewer guessing throughout. Indeed it is not until the very final moments that everything is revealed which will either put a smile on your face or will cause any uptight pedants watching to blow a casket while missing the point. The scams are very cleverly constructed with the opening salvo involving Solal being an incredible piece of ingenuity and bravado. It’s a mixture of crime caper and although sags a little in the middle as all the elements come together and the plan is finalised, the pace is brisk and light, played out in a style which pays tribute to the chic 70’s style French crime capers, with a funky soundtrack and lashings tongue in cheek levity.

A little tighter middle section would have been better but overall this is a fun, breezy, well constructed and densely plotted romp.