22 Bullets review

Right lads, we’re gonna make a gangster film – so what do we need? Heavy-set men wearing black, sunglasses indoors and carrying guns? Check. Everyone eats pasta and listens to opera? Check (even though they’re French). Huge amounts of utterly gratuitous, seemingly never-ending violence? Check. Men who, even though they exist outside of the law still have a weird sense of honour? Check. And so on and on and on.

Berry’s French gangster film is not so much a movie, more of a cut and paste job from every single other gangster film ever made. Set in Marseille (where else), it might claim to pay homage to such films as The French Connection and Goodfellas, but actually simply rips them off wholesale. It does have some stylish moments but for much of its two hour running time it’s difficult not to wish one of those bullets would come out of the screen and end the misery.

Jean Reno, he of Leon fame, heavy of eyelid, is Charly Mattei, a gangster who has retired to live with his family – there’s nothing more important, apparently. Of course, one never really retires from the Mafia, and two of the other gangsters he befriended as a boy come gunning for him, putting the bullets of the title into him.

He survives, and of course decides to get his revenge. In his way however is tough, uncompromising cop Monkfish – oh sorry, Marie Goldman, who has an agenda of her own after her husband was killed on duty. She likes a drop, and struggles with a lack of resources and back-up.

The rest of the film is one long-winded chase after another, one in a car – nowhere near French Connection standard, but ok – one on a motorbike, all done with little imagination or creativity. When the ‘we’re family’ talk starts it’s really difficult to care about any of these characters, but Marina Fois does her best as the determined cop with a seedy boss. Jean Reno has screen presence, but we’ve seen it all before and put to much better use, most obviously in Leon.

For a Mafia film it’s slow, baggy, talky and way too plotty, and the four screenwriters adapting a book based on real events seem to have merely confused each other. It’s apparently based on a real story, but that’s no excuse. Reno and Luc Besson will forever be associated after Leon and Nikita, but here Besson hands the directing reigns over to actor Berry, who also appears as one of the many bad men. In Besson’s hands it might have been as corny, but surely not as flat and uninspiring. At least he would have made it look good.

22 Bullets at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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