2 and a half out of 4 stars
Titling this movie "Love Crime" is something of a cheat and more than belies its actual content. There is crime but nothing related to romance, unless you consider miniscule, fleeting bits of suggestive homoerotic lesbianism to be romance. It's a mystery thriller but only in the loosest sense of the term as all of the mystery and thrills take place in its first half.
Take the more vicious aspects of "Working Girl" and "The Devil Wears Prada" and toss in some high gloss Euro-art-house aesthetics and you'll get an idea of its sleek but brittle veneer. It takes place in boardrooms, corner offices and museum-sized homes that are all sparingly appointed with cold, brutally efficient decor. The same can generally be said regarding the costume design; everyone looks great but no one is approachable.
It's set in Paris -- something that certainly adds to the visual appeal -- and includes characters employed in what vaguely appears to be an international consulting firm. What they consult on and for whom is sketchy but that doesn't really matter and is one of many tiny details that rob the viewer from a complete storytelling experience. One never notices throwaway minutia in a movie until it's not there.
The opening scene is pure Hitchcock and delivers volumes of information in mere minutes. Based solely on what they're wearing, the positions when sitting and their moods, it's clear that Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas) is the boss and mentor to the loyal, bright-eyed and non-judgmental Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier).
We can tell Isabelle really wants to succeed and will put up with a lot when Christine first inappropriately kisses her and then a male associate who interrupts their after-hours meeting with wine at Christine's home. Late director Alain Corneau and his co-writer Nathalie Carter toss the audience minimal bait and we lunge for it; it's a near-flawless and irresistible set-up.
From there it only gets snarkier. In a manner identical to Kevin Spacey in "Swimming with Sharks," Christine praises Isabelle for hard work and original ideas in private and then passes them off as her own to those paying the bills. At a party, seasoned networker Christine instructs the willing sponge Isabelle on the correct way to "work a room" then contradicts herself in manner that cannot be explained. Both women become irreversibly flummoxed and dislodged.
To the writers' immense credit, they include a scene or two that indicates Isabelle isn't as innocent or naive as she initially appears and Christine is simply following a succeed-at-all-costs mindset shared by millions of other type-A corporate VPs. Making it big in the business world isn't easy, is rarely polite and isn't for the squeamish.
After a couple more tooth 'n' nail exchanges between the leads, the narrative reaches its peak (which is considerably high) and then -- like a hot air balloon that prematurely runs out of gas -- begins a rapid, erratic descent. The mystery and thriller elements evaporate completely and the remainder of the film is littered with bloated, inconsequential filler. This wouldn't be the case if just one key sequence was moved from the second to the third act. With that single modification, this movie would have gone from barely average to beyond very good.
Indisputably identifying the "who" halfway through a whodunit like this is thoroughly unconscionable, lazy and sloppy. Following it with rote psychobabble, shoddy police work and non-red herrings just adds insult to injury. It's unfortunate this was Corneau's final effort; it leaves an avoidable blemish at the end of an otherwise impressive career.
Presented in French with occasional English with English subtitles. (IFC)