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Racer and the Jailbird (2017) starring Matthias Schoenaerts

Bibi and Gigi

This Belgian romantic crime drama features Adèle Exarchopoulos as a racing car driver nicknamed Bibi, who meets a handsome man named Gigi (Matthias Schoenaerts) by the side of the racetrack. The pair quickly fall in love with each other. He claims to be involved in a car import/export company. However, he is secretly part of a criminal gang, along with his partners Serge (Jean-Benoit Ugeux) and Younes (Nabil Missoumi), who instigate a series of high-profile heists around Belgium.

While the couple’s relationship blossoms and they decide to get engaged, Bibi becomes increasingly suspicious that he his not who he says he is. To make matters worse, an unexpected tragedy strikes.

Watch a trailer:

Romantic action potboiler

Despite its longish runtime, Racer and the Jailbird isn’t a particularly substantial movie. It’s a standard, glossy romantic melodrama with a bit of action thrown in (some heist sequences, car racing and a violent climax) for good measure. Luckily, both the latter moments and the strong performances by the two leads manage to keep it entertaining.

Adèle Exarchopoulos gained international recognition for her performance alongside Léa Seydoux in the acclaimed lesbian relationship drama Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013). However, while her co-star has landed higher-profile roles since then (most notably as a Bond girl in Spectre), Adèle has continued working in modest Francophone productions. It is hard to understand why she doesn’t yet have a larger career. She is certainly a talented and strongly-defined actress who possesses an undeniable chemistry and rapport - not only with her fellow cast members but frankly with the silver screen itself. There’s a kind of naturally childlike innocence in her gestures (that knife-sucking mannerism from Blue Is the Warmest Colour appears again here) even while the character she plays is convincingly headstrong and determined in the manner that any racing driver would be.

Matthias Schoenaerts is almost as charismatic as a career criminal who has his own points of vulnerability: a fear of dogs (explained in an opening flashback) as coupled with a parallel fear of being honest with Gigi about his true source of income. He brings enough depth to the role to make the viewer invest in him despite the fact that his character is morally dubious at best. However, the film seems somewhat more fascinated by Adèle’s character as she is torn between supporting the man whom she loves and being concerned over what exactly he is involved in while he’s away from her. Apparently, the script was intended to be more of a straight crime thriller until Adèle came aboard, after which they repurposed it to play to the actress’s strengths and base the plot largely around the ill-starred relationship.

Adèle Exarchopoulos and Matthias Schoenaerts in Racer and the Jailbird

The action setpieces don’t take up a huge percentage of the runtime but are mostly well-done when they do appear. The highlight is a highway heist which is orchestrated to look like it takes place in one extended take. A climactic fight sequence commits the twin sins of over-editing and murky cinematography but, nonetheless, it is mitigated by being followed up with a memorable closing POV shot tracking through the streets of Brussels.

Overall, however, that’s pretty much it. There’s never really any deeper exploration of the two characters, beyond the fact that they’re two people involved in different high-stakes pursuits, who happen to be in love with each other but clearly aren’t destined to live happily ever after together. Just enjoy the acting, the steamy sex scenes, the burst of fast-paced action - and then weep at the inevitable sad ending to it all. A diverting potboiler, nothing more, nothing less.

Runtime: 130 mins

Dir: Michaël R. Roskam

Script: Thomas Bidegain, Noé Debré, Michaël R. Roskam

Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Eric De Staercke, Jean-Benoit Ugeux, Nabil Missoumi, Thomas Coumans

Rating: ☆☆☆

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