Five sentences for three films:
Michael Caine gives a grade-A performance in this beautifully-lit though slow-paced social thriller that wants to make a Statement about the Way of Things while still retaining B-movie vigilante qualities. It doesn't always work, but certain sequences, like Harry's encounter with the drug dealer Slim (a mercilessly icky Sean Harris) just sing to the high Heavens with superbity. An original song plays over the credits, which is a little amusing, but cannot distract from seeing Caine dole out some street justice (not to be confused with Streep Justice). I'm amazed at how serious it is, and how determined director Daniel Barber is to stick with that vision of gritty realism. A dreary third-act twist, though hinted at before, keeps it at a three-star status instead of three and one-half.
True, the point of the title is really only used once, and almost randomly at that, but there is no doubt that Jacques Audiard has made quite the masterpiece, a prison movie, a gangster epic, a character piece with supernatural elements, and all mixed together seamlessly and beautifully. Everyone we meet, however briefly, is fully developed and completely individual: Hichem Yacoubi is one of cinema's greatest ghosts, and Niels Arestrup is scary and pathetic as the Corsican mobster who runs the prison from the inside. Protagonist Tahar Rahim, though, is a marvel to watch, and the transformation from naive innocent to ruthless gangster is one that sneaks up on you, so subtle and fluid is that arc. Hollmann Award Winner Alexandre Desplat (who has also been nominated four other times) contributes a wonderfully humble score, too.
More jokes hit than miss. If there's anything holding the movie back, it may be Will Forte's hamming it up, which clashes somewhat with Ryan Phillippe, Val Kilmer and Kristen Wiig, all of whom play it straight. It works much of the time -- dick jokes, copy toner lube, and the history of MacGruber and villain Cunth are great highlights (all crass, all hilarious) -- but in the end you know you won't remember this movie in two years. Still, you could probably keep this on as you do laundry. Can we let Phillippe do more comedies, by the way?