Bonello's film quietly satirises a dangerous subject, providing no answers, only important questions.
Dealer. 2014. Directed by Jean Luc Herbulot. Screenplay by Samy Baaroun & Herbulot.
Starring Dan Bronchinson, Elsa Madeleine, Salem Kali, Bruno Henry, Hervé Babadi, Dimitri Storoge, Fatima Adoum, Didier Mérigou, Emmanuel Bonami and Franck Boss. Multipass Productions/Mad Films-Mi.
Unrated. 75 minutes.
Ever since Nicolas Winding Refn brought the Copenhagen drugworld out in all its gritty, raw glory with Pusher twenty years ago, many other filmmakers have tried their best to attain the same level of magic with their own tales of the mean streets in various countries. Most recently, I loved Gerard Johnson’s Hyena, which definitely pulled from Refn yet kept its own vibe in tact with lots of dubious police morality, a few nasty splashes of blood and plenty of the ole ultraviolence.
And now, we have Jean Luc Herbulot coming at us with the 2014 crime-thriller Dealer. There are absolutely bits and pieces of the film which exhibit influences of Refn. At the same time, there’s a little more action here, more dialogue, and certainly there’s the differing narration in this movie which sets it apart from any of its influences, Refn or otherwise. And while it isn’t a perfect crime-thriller there are a ton of impressive sequences, well-written scenes, as well as debilitating moments of violent action which propel us into the French underworld, filled with odd and quirky characters, drug dealing pieces of shit, murderers, and a whole lot more. Herbulot may not succeed on every note, hitting a few that call to mind too much other films. But outside of that, Dealer is a lot of fun – grim fun, at that. If what you’re looking for is another guided tour through the drug life of a middle man dealer in the gutters of Paris, or what could be any major city with a taste for illegal substances, then this is certainly a film you don’t want to pass up.
Always dreaming of going to Australia with his daughter, drug dealing Dan (Dan Bronchinson) is in a bad way. His life isn’t exactly stellar, trying to navigate a rocky relationship with separated wife Léna (Maïa Bonami), sleeping with a prostitute named Chris (Elsa Madeleine), all the while attempting to exit the cocaine business to make his dreams come true.
When Dan is offered a once in a lifetime opportunity he must remain a little longer as a cocaine dealer. Except in a twist of fate, the drugs he’s given – worth 70,000 francs – end up disappearing, which leads Dan and his tenuous associates on a fast thrill ride through the underbelly of Paris looking for the culprit. And worst of all, his family finds themselves in the cross-hairs of his disgusting business, and the conclusion will be tough; for every last person involved.
One sequence I loved is where Dan walks the streets, mourning the loss of his cocaine and stressing over where to get the money he owes for it. His red jacket is the only colour visible in the frame for a while, as he smokes and pushes through crowds of people. Best of all, he sees everything from cellphones to shoes to jackets, and more, with price tags next to them. Tallying up how much he’d have to steal and hawk in order to make up the 70,000 francs, which is the equivalent of nearly $100,000 in American and Canadian dollars. This whole sequence is great and gives us more than just the raw style director Herbulot goes for most of the film; not to say I don’t enjoy that, it’s just nice to see more than one technique displayed.
Above all, it’s the intense pacing of the film I enjoyed. Whereas many crime-thrillers, particularly those with twisty plots, sometimes find themselves with a slow pace due to heavy dialogue, too much exposition, or any number of issues, Dealer succeeds in keeping things fast paced, exciting, from the very beginning straight into the finale. That’s one thing that helps Herbulot distance his movie from Refn – not that he needs to, but you know what I mean. The fact Herbulot keeps the film speeding from scene to scene is impressive work, as we could easily find ourselves bogged down in so many details, too many characters, too much violence. However, this never ever happens. Not once was I looking at my watch, as has happened in the past with other similar films. In fact, the 75 minute runtime whittles away incredibly quick, and I was surprised during the final 15 minutes when I realized everything was almost finished. The lasting impact of the few final scenes is especially resonant. Again, it brings to mind quite a bit of the way Refn ended his first Pusher. Although, I found the writing here from both Herbulot and Samy Baaroun leaves Dealer in a much more intense, chaotic, and even scary place. Refn did a much better job on the whole, but Herbulot could certainly pick up and make his own Pusher sequel, that’s how well executed this film comes off.
With a few pieces I thought could’ve been fine tuned a little more, Dealer is still a 3.5 out of 5 star crime-thriller. Plenty of action, lots of the grime and grit we seem to expect these days from stories such as this, and on top of that the performances are full of energy, which matches the pace Herbulot and Baaroun set with their screenplay. You can certainly do a whole lot worse if you’re looking for a thrilling crime film to pass the time. Apparently the lead actor has experience in this sort of world, quoted as saying almost 70% of it is straight out of his own life. So that’s another wild aspect. Regardless, this holds excitement, brutality, and even the rare touching moment near the end. Dealer certainly keeps up the future of crime films, joining the ranks of Refn, Gerard Johnson and others who have depicted the criminal underbelly of the world in a highly stylized and intriguing fashion. I’ll be keeping Herbulot on my radar from now on. Hopefully he’ll follow up with something equally as impressive.