Film Review: The Big Picture

Sprawling crime drama about a high-achieving young Parisian lawyer forced to dump a seemingly picture-perfect life and go on the run is a suspenseful journey with emotional detours.

Although quickly evolving from a family drama about infidelity to a border-hopping adventure yarn of desperation and escape, director Eric Lartigau’s The Big Picture leverages film-ready source material (Douglas Kennedy’s novel), Hitchcockian assets and fine acting talent to deliver the goods to subtitle-friendly crowds across demographics.

Moving from Western to Eastern Europe and from dry land to water and back, the story, like its lawyer hero Paul (Romain Duris), covers a lot of ground. Paul is first seen as a prosperous estate lawyer who coddles the rich. He has the familiar de rigueur beautiful home, wife (Marina Foïs as Sarah) and kids that often accompany such success. And Paul is even about to take over the firm, as his mentor-boss Ann (Catherine Deneuve) has terminal cancer and his handing him the business.

But all’s far from well. An amateur photographer jealous of his friend Greg’s (Eric Ruf) freedom as a freelance photojournalist, Paul is clearly restless, feeling trapped in so bourgeois a life. He’s further unnerved when Sarah springs her wishes for divorce and he begins suspecting she’s having an affair with Greg. When Paul confronts Greg, a fight ensues and something worse, all of which has Paul abandoning his family, faking his own death in Brittany, taking on Greg’s identity and heading east to Montenegro.

The odyssey has Paul settling in a small apartment near Belgrade where he immerses himself in photography. Hovering around him is Bartholomé, a dissolute, nosy local who turns out to be the editor of an important newspaper. And it’s clear he doesn’t quite buy Paul’s (now “Greg” to his new neighbors) story of Eastern Europe resettlement.
But Bartholomé is so impressed with Paul’s photos, he puts him in touch with photo editor Ivana (Branka Katic), who hires him for her publication. Soon the two are romantically involved.

When Paul’s work catches the attention of gallery owners and art patrons, the vise tightens, because the galleries need pictures of Paul to promote his efforts to the media. Such unexpected success and the threat of exposure careen Paul into yet another geographic arc that brings new twists.

Duris (The Beat That My Heart Skipped, L’Auberge Espagnole) delivers another intense performance as if lives depended upon it and, again, Niels Arestrup is perfectly cast as a cynical expat journo who may become Paul’s undoing. In an entirely superfluous and brief role, the infallible Catherine Deneuve, forever welcome for whatever whenever, pops in early to underscore the seemingly idyllic life the hero is chucking. And filmmaker Lartigau manages that slippery Patricia Highsmith trick of fashioning a bad boy who’s hard as heck to root against.