Through The Air (La résistance de l’air)

France (2015) Dir. Fred Grivois

It’s amazing what some people will do for money; then again, perhaps it isn’t since we all need it and everyone has their price. Some will endure public humiliation if it means that extra bit of cash, while others might be persuaded to step over to the wrong side of the law if the figure is high enough.

This is essentially the core premise of this debut from Fred Grivois. Vincent Cavelle (Reda Kateb) and wife Delphine (Ludivine Sagnier) are having a new house built for them and their young daughter Alexia (Blanche Hemada Costoso), but work has stalled since Vincent is behind on payment.

When his womanising father Armand (Tchéky Karyo) suffers a stroke, Vincent takes him into the small family flat putting a further strain on the marriage. As an escape, Vincent belongs to a shooting club where he is the top ranked marksman. His talents are noticed by shady Belgian Renaud (Johan Heldenbergh) who offers Vincent a sweet deal to put his shooting skills to good use for a nice payday.

Scripted by Noe Debre and Thomas Bidegain, who gave us Dheepan, A Prophet and Rust & Bone, the promise of an emotionally charged drama is exceptionally high. If you’ve sense a “but” coming you are very perceptive because there is a very big “but” coming as the script that is lacking in areas you wouldn’t expect from such seasoned and successful screenwriters.

This may not be an accurate assumption of the issue but going by the way this film is structured with its slow-paced first two acts and adrenaline rush in the third act with an equally abrupt conclusion, it has all the hallmarks of possibly being earmarked for a TV series but ended up being a film instead.

At 94 minutes in total, the first hour is very much in the foundation building stage of the story that we would get in the opening episode of a six part series, complete with plenty of room for character growth as well as expanding the drama of the family troubles and the journey Vincent goes on working for Renaud. Not that it isn’t possible to tell such a story inside 90 minutes but it seems a bit too big a task for first timer Grivios.

Problems between Vincent and Delphine extend to the bedroom which is exacerbated when Armand moves in, forcing Alexia to sleep in with her parents. With money being tight and the new house looking to be solution to their problems, Vincent is more than intrigued by Renaud’s offer which he craftily manages to explain without being explicit.

Ideally, Vincent should wrestle with his conscience before making a decision since this is not only out of the blue but surely against his nature as a loyal husband and father to a young girl. Yet the house needs paying for and Vincent enjoys shooting so why not? So Vincent is off to Brussels with a top of the range professional rifle and a target in mind; one pull of the trigger later and Vincent has earned himself a nice little pay packet.

Upon returning home, Vincent learns that his father has died and Delphine has taken Alexia to stay with her well off and successful sister Evelyne (Sylvie Degryse), so naturally he goes off the rails with Renaud as his new best friend. The change in Vincent is swift and jarring which again should have occurred over time but we are closing in on the hour mark at this point so we have to accept it.

The remainder of the film explores the double edge concept of price – not so much the price it takes for a dutiful husband to turn cold-blooded killer, but the price he pays when he tries to walk away from this dark world. The film’s opening where a bald man (Patrice Guillain) shows up at a family home and blasts the man before his wife and kids finally gets an explanation an hour in to indicate the fate that awaits Vincent for not playing ball.

Finally after a prolonged wait we get some decent action in the form of a couple of quick shootouts but it comes a little too late, especially for those expecting the high-octane thriller the promotional materials would have you believe this is. If you can accept this as a slow burning character study of a man in need being tempted to kill for the sake of providing for his family, you may also feel underwhelmed but less short changed.

The scope for the psychological exploration into Vincent and his mindset is evident from the concept alone but no attempts are made to capitalise on it. When he does eventually come to his senses the emotional clout is missing from both Vincent and Delphine, which is no fault at all of the actors as they can only do so much with the flimsy characters assigned to them.

Reda Kateb is an actor I’ve only seen in villainous roles so to see him play someone relatively likeable and thoughtful of other people – pre-sniper natch – is quite a shock but he is able to pull it off. Perhaps it is the full head of hair and glasses but he brings a quiet humanity to Vincent but the script doesn’t allow him to fully explore this side of him.

Ludivine Sagnier has a perfect face for encouraging sympathy but that is pretty much all she does, making Delphine a role anyone could have played but like Kateb, Sagnier gives what she can to make her more substantial than the poor script defines her as. As commendable are these performances are under these circumstances it is Johan Heldenbergh as Renaud who gets the meatiest role of the film.

Through The Air is a slickly made film with all the elements for a great thriller with a dramatic edge but sadly is unable to make them gel into a satisfying whole.