Bruno (played by writer/director Belvaux) is a fanatical anarchist who, with the help of a fellow revolutionary, has recently escaped from prison, hell-bent on picking up his cause fifteen years after he was locked up. What Bruno doesn’t expect is that most of his comrades from back in the day have become part of the machine they raged against in their youth, reduced to hiding out in the storage rental space where he kept a number of provisions: guns, canned food, a cot and extra money. First on Bruno’s list is to settle an old score with former cohort Jacquillat (Patrick Descamps), who has become the owner of a large trucking company and is the man Bruno feels is responsible for his incarceration. Jacquillat, however, is expecting a visit from Bruno, and turns his trucking compound into a fortress. While he decides on a plan of action to get Jacquillat, Bruno chooses to commit a few acts of mayhem around town, including the assassination of another ex-member of their group and the bombing of the courthouse where he was tried and sentenced.
While no longer sympathetic to their long-lost cause, Bruno’s friend Jeanne Rivet (Catherine Frot) is willing to offer the fugitive a small token of assistance, by returning a large keyring she has had hidden away for many years to its rightful owner. Returning to his old flat, Bruno is identified by a neighbor, whose report to the police helps Jacquillat’s men figure out where the escapee has been roaming. While trailing a young man he believes to be one of Jacquillat’s goons, Bruno witnesses the beating of a junkie woman by his suspect, and intervenes on her behalf. The junkie, Agnes (Dominique Blanc), is the wife of a police officer working the night shift, and offers Bruno a place to crash for the evening in thanks for his help. Bruno comes to Agnes’s aid once again, when she overdoses at the flat, and is rewarded with a new place to hide out: the mountain-side chateau of her friend Cecile (Ornella Muti). Once Bruno regroups, he goes after Jacquillat once again in earnest. Things do not go according to plan, causing Bruno to head into the Alps to escape from the police and Jacquillat’s men for his very life.
Despite the film being technically proficient, and full of very good performances by its talented cast (especially the three females of the stories), the film simply does not work because Bruno remains a cipher from start to finish. We know not what caused him to become a revolutionary all those years before, or why he remains so committed to the cause despite the real world proof his communist beliefs did not work then and do not work today. In fact, if one isn’t paying specific attention to a small visual clue in one early scene, one might not even know what Bruno believes, coming off as nothing more than a garden variety thug with a hatred of practically everyone and everything. The actor Belvaux, who reportedly stepped into the role a few weeks before production started when his initial actor became unavailable, does as best he can with the oblique material given to him by writer Belvaux and the circuitous guidance of his performance by director Belvaux. Bruno would be a tough part to crack for any actor, but in the hands of the man who created the role and the man shaping the overall mood of the piece, the give and take dynamic of the actor working with the director to craft a fine performance is lost.
Judgment on the overall effectiveness will be held under the viewing of the remaining films, but on its own, the suspense-less thriller “On the Run” leaves much to be desired.
Note: The second film in the series, “An Amazing Couple,” is an upbeat romantic comedy following the marriage of Cecile and Alain (Francois Morel), while the concluding film, “After The Life,” become a melodrama about Agnes and her husband Pascal (Gilbert Melki), a police officer who is looking to restore his integrity by capturing the recently escaped Bruno. Both films will be reviewed in the coming weeks.Rating: C