Pros: Brilliant actors with meaty roles, and a director with clear vision and flawless pacing.
Cons: They switch languages at the drop of a hat.
The Nest [Nid de guêpes] (2002) Directed by Florent Emilio Siri
French Cinema....laboriously hedonistic or dying of terminal ennui....those seem to be the two modes. Or it is about a red balloon. That is the stereo type. But Siri proves that the French have far more tricks up their sleeves, and genres in their repertoire.
The Nest (or The Wasp Nest in the original French) tells the story of four groups that converge on one location.
Helene Laborie (Nadia Farès) leads an elite Special Forces team charged with transporting Abedin Nexhep (Angelo Infanti) an Albanian Mafia Lord responsible from a white slavery prostitution ring to his trial.
Nasser (Samy Naceri) is the leader of a group of thieves.
Helene is joined by longtime friend and compatriot, Giovanni (Valerio Mastandrea) the laconic Winfried (Richard Sammel), and others dedicated to seeing that this monster is delivered to judgment for crimes against humanity.
Nasser and four others lay careful plans. At first, one assumes Santino's (Benoît Magimel) whistling annoys the dyspeptic Nasser, but then Nasser joins in, with Martial (Martial Odone) and Nadia (Anisia Uzeyman) providing vocals and Selim (Sami Bouajila) giving forth a little beat box action, and the theme of the Magnificent Seven rollicks through the truck, showing how these people are not only a well oiled machine functioning together, but friends.
These five friends work like the five fingers of a hand to approach, infiltrate, evade security, and enter a warehouse in an industrial park. Here we meet the third faction of three, Watchmen Louis (Pascal Greggory), Spitz (Martin Amic), and Louis' dog. These two work a day Pierres are not ready for the grace and precision of the five friends' invasion of their secure little warehouse.
Meanwhile, out in the real world, a wreck causes the first diversion from the flight plan of the prisoner transport. I say the first, because as Nasser and his crew are making their way into the warehouse, a well planned ambush almost frees the despicable crime lord. Almost, except for the bravery and foolhardy desperation of Helen Laborie, who is now looking for a place to hide until they can summon reinforcements. Guess where she chooses?
If you said the Warehouse, you are correct. But the Albanian hired mercenary army is hot on their tails, and they would have certainly been caught if it weren't for one little flaw in the plan....
The Five Friends Computer Liberation Squad has no idea who these jerks in the high tech gear are, but when they start shooting, they fire back. Now, we have two factions, those on the outside who want in, and those inside who want to live.
Florent Emilio Siri has woven a story as tight as any American director, with as much action as any John Woo flick, and with considerably more veritas; bullets kill people, and the heroes do not take multiple shots and soldier bravely on. Some die, and there is nothing their friends can do to save them. They are not red shirts; they are friends and colleagues. Of them all, Martial is the closest to a superhero, having amazing agility and acrobatics. They will not save him. Winfried has the best armour; he is not Iron Man.
Nor does Siri let it lapse into a macho cliché; there are twist and turns in the action, but none are fueled by the heroes' desire to show how brave they are. No, the stupidity is born of bowel liquefying fear.
Nor does Siri think there has to be a major emotional subplot. Selim has the hots for Nadia the hacker. There are no digressions to prove they were always meant to be. Santino and Helene do not fall in love. That is not to say there are not emotions and sub plots; the relationship between Nasser and Santino is as moving as any love story. The bonding between the two groups is the two women talking about their munchkins. Now THERE is a reason to survive a gun fight!
Siri also has masterful control of the pacing, interspersing the nerve wracking waiting with nerve wracking warfare. In fact, from start to finish, it is obvious that Siri is in control of the entire production. Plot holes are nipped in the bud, and in fact, turned into foreshadowing; the thieves cut the Warehouse communications. The prisoner transport crew, you didn't know if the driver was going to live or not, but you knew that radio was toast when the first bullets flew.
And I didn't even mind the subtitles; first, they are the easy to read edged yellow ones, second, this movie wanders through three languages at least, so you know you have to endure them at one point or another.
Lastly, these were neither Parisians in heat, nor Frenchmen at death's door from depression; they were people in very bad circumstances trying to stay alive. Some of their plans worked better than others. Sometimes their luck just didn't hold. But through the thick and thin, you believed them. They brought the characters to life. That's great acting, no matter the language. Here is proof the French can do an action thriller, and in point of fact beat most Americans at their own game. Check it out.