VOD film review: Scribe
Matthew Turner | On 21, Jul 2017
Director: Thomas Kruithof
Cast: François Cluzet, Denis Podalydès, Sami Bouajila, Alba Rohrwacher, Simon Abkarian
Watch Scribe online in the UK: All 4 / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
Alternately known as The Eavesdropper or La mécanique de l’ombre, this stylish French conspiracy thriller marks the feature debut of director Thomas Kruithof. Francois Cluzet stars as Duval, a middle-aged recovering alcoholic who’s been out of work for two years. Desperate for work, Duval accepts a job from the mysterious Mr Clement (Denis Podalydès), which involves transcribing covertly recorded telephone calls on an old-fashioned typewriter in a nondescript room.
Duval soon comes to suspect that the recordings have been made by the French Secret Service and that they are closely monitoring a right-wing candidate in the forthcoming election. When one of the tapes appears to contain evidence of a murder, Duval finds himself sucked into a shadowy nightmare of conspiracy and shifting loyalties.
Cluzet (who looks a lot like Dustin Hoffman) is an eminently watchable actor and he’s on fine form here as a man hopelessly out of his depth. Similarly, Podalydès is suitably sinister as Clement and there’s strong support from Simon Abkarian as Duval’s shady supervisor, although Alba Rohrwacher (The Wonders) is completely wasted as a fellow AA member, in an initially promising sub-plot that ultimately goes nowhere.
Clearly influenced by classic 70s paranoid conspiracy thrillers, such as Coppola’s The Conversation or Pakula’s The Parallax View, Kruithof is much stronger on style than he is on substance. Frustratingly, some of the story decisions appear to have prioritised style over sense – for example, there’s no reason for Duval to have to type everything out on an old-fashioned typewriter other than the fact that it looks cool. There are a number of other issues too, such as the fact that a key character abruptly disappears.
The details of Duval’s set-up (complete with a strict set of rules) are nicely handled and Kruithof maintains an agreeably tense atmosphere throughout, but, with the exception of one key scene, the main story never quite clicks into gear. The main problem is that the film consistently squanders every promising element it sets up, including the opportunity to make political points about the rise of right-wing political parties in France – the intention is clearly there, but it’s like the script opens its mouth and then finds it has nothing of interest to say.
Scribe is available on All 4 until 27th May 2021.