Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Monday June 15, 2020 


James Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), the Personal Assistant to American Ambassador Bennington (Richard Durden) in Paris, is chomping at the bit to move up the Special Ops ladder. He gets his wish and more than he bargained for when he's assigned to partner FBI agent Charlie Wax (John Travolta), who is arriving in Paris to conduct a secret mission. Charlie's brutally unorthodox but effective methods contrast with James' polite young man persona, but Charlie drags him along through street fights and gun fights in drug dens and motorway chases, as the real target of the mission - a deadly terrorist cell planning to hit an international conference of global delegates including a senior group from the US - is revealed. James has to leave his fiancée, Carolina (Kasia Smutniak) in the dark as he follows Charlie to the bitter end.

Review by Louise Keller:
"Do I look like I play board games?" says John Travolta's Wax, who seems more like a foul-mouthed bikie thug, than (even an unorthodox) CIA operative. His new partner in the perilous counter-terrorist operation is US Embassy gopher Reece (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), a keen chess player and astute strategist - until his gentlemanly covert role becomes one punctuated with bloody violence. As a pulsating action thriller with edge-of-seat car chases, massive explosions, gun-fire and major stunts, the film works a treat, largely due to the odd-couple pairing of Travolta and Meyers. Director Pierre Morel gives the action edgy energy - from Luc Besson's story, and the inscrutable Paris setting that takes us from the top of the Eiffel Tower to the sordid depths of the backstreets where multiculturalism is on display at its grubbiest.

Screenwriter Adi Hasak sets the scene beautifully. When we meet Meyers' obliging Reece, his key function is unscrewing licence plates and planting the odd bugged microphone under a desk. He wears a suit, plays chess with his boss and rushes home to his lovely, purpose-seeking French girlfriend Caroline (Kasia Smutniak). There is heavy-duty contrast with trigger-happy, leather-clad Wax ("Wax on; Wax off"), whose 'shoot first, ask later' philosophy allows scene stealing Travolta the licence to create a wonderfully colourful character pulsating with energy. There are appealing touches of humour, too.

We make our journey through the eyes of protagonist Reece and together we cross the line as the 'dagger' takes priority in 'the cloak and dagger business.' There are many impressive set pieces, like the unexpected snow-like downpour at the Chinese restaurant Le Lotus des Neiges and the high-octane car chase in which Travolta juggles some heavy metal. Commendably, Morel keeps the running time tight and every second counts.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The combination of the Paris setting, John Travolta in top form as the tough and merciless CIA agent Charlie Wax, a strong plot and some super cool tough-guy dialogue makes this an entertaining and engaging film, despite a couple of minor detail dogs in the last act. Travolta manages to hint at a complex back story and deeper personality behind his take no prisoners style, adding to the layers of a film that intends to get your adrenaline flowing.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers as James Reece makes an effective foil for his resourceful partner, as he gets a fast and complex lesson in the deadly arts of the secret service. It's routine to have heavy duty weapons in secret lockers in vehicles used by the service, just as it is to have the latest gadgets. But this is also a film about the security risk posed by love and how a woman can be used to unromantic ends.

Kasia Smutniak is terrific as the sweet French girl Carolina, the dress designer who has romanced James and is clearly committed to him, as demonstrated by her gift of her father's ring. Yanked away from the romantic dinner for two, James can't know the extraordinary mission he's about to join.

While the film's tone is serious, Travolta's bald headed and bold hearted Charlie adds a real sense of bravura - the kind that men addicted to action often display. Glib on the surface, deep down he's dead serious - both about the mission and about staying alive, although the latter is just a matter of time and he knows it.

Strong craftwork delivers the film in every department and the writing is thrillingly economical.

Email this article

Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(France, 2010)

CAST: John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Amber Rose Revah, Kasia Smutniak, Melissa Mars, Farid Elouardi, Richard Durden, Chems Dahmani

PRODUCER: Luc Besson, India Osborne

DIRECTOR: Pierre Morel

SCRIPT: Adi Hassak (story by Luc Besson)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Michel Abramowicz

EDITOR: Frederic Thoraval

MUSIC: David Buckley


RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 18, 2010

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020