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Mystery Movies - Le Couperet

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Le Couperet
Jose Garcia, Karin Viard
Directed by Costa-Gavras
Based on The Ax by Donald Westlake
French, English subtitles
Crystal Films 2005
122 minutes

Le Couperet, a French thriller DVD directed by the legendary Costa-Gavras, is based on The Ax by Donald Westlake. This is a highly original if talkative (hey, it is a French movie) thriller about an upper management worker bee who gets laid off, is unemployed for a couple of years, and decides that if he is to get the job he wants he is going to have to eliminate the competition.

Le Couperet is told as a flashback when Bruno Davert (played by the very ordinary looking Jose Garcia) starts taping his final confession after yet another hit but one that finally got to him.  The bizarre thing about this French thriller is it is both darkly funny, very plausible, and rather pathetic at times in its depiction of the middle class. Davert is rather inventive when he plants a fake help wanted ad to figure out who his competition is. He is basically clumsy when he uses the Luger his father got in WW II to eliminate the competition. He is amazingly lucky when someone else literally takes the fall for two of his murders. He is also very resourceful when comes time to hide evidence of one of his murders.

What makes Le Couperet work as a thriller is how ordinary Bruno Davert is and how common his situation is. He keeps meeting people who either got laid off or know someone who just got laid off. Most of them feel absolutely powerless in front of a basically unjust system that values the stockholder above the worker. Davert, one the other hand, does not feel powerless at all.

Le Couperet is one of very few very good French adaptations of an American novel. You basically have to know this thriller is based on The Ax by Donald Westlake. It is also a very original movie in that the serial killer or hit man here is a very, very ordinary guy living a very ordinary life whose home life is disrupted not by his killing spree but by the fact he is unemployed and becoming more and more distant from his wife.

Director Costa-Gavras (Missing, Z) is at the top of his form here. He has decided to go for a low key yet very tight direction style where tension comes from unexpected places at unexpected times. When the police visit the Davert home it is not for the reason you would think and it has its moments of dark humor. The movie is full of surprises and none come from where even a veteran mystery fan might think.

The only weak moments in Le Couperet are the first time the Davert couple meets with the marriage councellor and he confronts them with the fact he is Black and wonders what they think about that, and the sfx bit with the bees after one of the hits. It is also a bit long but definitely rewards the viewer.

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