22 Bullets

It’s a sad fact that any film about any mafia will provoke comparisons with The Godfather films. The good, the bad and the ugly (to steal a phrase from another genre) face this barrier, and such is the standard of the benchmark that there have been few truly standout gangster films since. 22 Bullets (aka: L’immortel) is a French film, starring probably the most famous living French actor, Jean Reno. Reno plays Charly Mattei, a retired former mafia boss in Marseille. After being attacked and left for dead – with the titular 22 bullets in him – Charly vows revenge. The rest of the film is an unsurprising story of one man’s war against the mafia.

On the face of it, the plot seems fairly straightforward. And really, it is. There are one or two twists to the take, but nothing truly earth-shattering. The power of the piece is mostly character driven. Leading the charge is Mattei. The retired gangster pulled back into the underworld isn’t a new idea, but sufficed well enough here. Reno portrays the veteran criminal as a family man, with a keen sense of honour and a clear – if somewhat warped – sense of morality. His quiet sincerity throughout the film carries it. Opposite him is Zacchia (Kad Merad), a fellow crime kingpin and onetime friend but now Mattei’s archenemy. Personality being everything in this genre, Zacchia is a real treat: a stuttering, spoilt, and grown-up baby. The contrast between Mattei’s calm and Zacchia’s neurosis makes for a well-executed humour amid the action.

One of the main things that sold this film to me was actually that it wasn’t just crime and revenge and shooting people. There was a heavy emotional aspect to it, with the familial relationships not only between Mattei and his own family, but the few underlings who remain by him. It seems to understand that the thing that made films like The Godfather and Goodfellas really entertaining wasn’t just violence and action, but the relationships. Its flaws consisted mainly of the predictability of the plot itself. The fact is, once you’ve seen one revenge film, you’ve seen them all as far as the story goes.

These films are made from the similar basic concept and they can be related to each other in some manner. Bringing in relationships along with crime and revenge takes the movie plot to a very interesting level. Read more at this website to know how such movies are scripted and made to the screenplay.  From a starting point of the implausibility of his survival, it’s clear that Mattei will take down his would-be killers one by one, until he ends up at the big boss, with the dramatic face off. It’s really about as formulaic as you’re likely to get. But, despite this handicap, the execution rises to commendable heights. The language barrier is no barrier, it is every bit as engrossing as if it had been in English. In a way, it is the more intriguing for the slight culture difference. But that in no way disguises what it is; a well-made, entertaining, and at times verging on thought-provoking, film.