Pierre Jolivet’s latest film, Armed Hands, is a police procedural that strives to be both a taut thriller and a gripping family drama. While Jolivet’s ambition is admirable, it serves as one of the major hindrances of the film. Armed Hands is a film that has several good ideas running throughout, but not enough time to truly explore all of them in depth.
The film revolves around Lucas Skali (Roschdy Zem), the captain of an anti-arms trafficking squad in Marseille, who is tipped off about a large shipment of NATO P90 assault rifles being smuggled in by a Serbian group. Lucas’ investigation takes him to Paris where he must enlist the help of Maya Dervin (Leïla Bekhti). Maya is a young narcotics officer who likes to live life on the edge. She also happens to be Lucas’s estranged daughter. As Lucas and Maya’s separate investigations become more intertwined, they each must confront old emotional wounds that resurface.
The surprise re-emergence of Lucas in Maya’s life sends her into a self-destructive spiral that Jolivet takes great pleasure in exploring. Clearly her father’s absence when she was younger had damaging effects on Maya. Jolivet spends a lot of time not only providing glimpses into Maya’s life up to this point, but also depicts her determination to prove herself both on the job and to Lucas. The film juxtaposes Maya’s constant need to assert her strength with Lucas’ attempts to hide his softer side. Lucas desperately wants to try and make things right with his daughter, but has no grasp on what it is to be a father. He has been away for so long that does not even know how to talk to Maya outside of the job.
Considering the many layers of Lucas and Maya, compared to the secondary characters in the film, one cannot help but think that Armed Hands would have worked better as a gritty HBO style mini-series. This would have allowed Jolivet more time to strengthen many of the plot threads that the film touches on. One notable thread being Maya’s relationship with her married boss Julien Bass (Marc Lavoine); fleshing out this story arc would have added greater tension to the scenes between Julien and Lucas.
Speaking of tension, Armed Hands is surprisingly sparse on thrills for a police procedural. Although the film tries to set up tension early on with two thrilling stakeout sequences, Jolivet’s film is rather light in regards to action. There are a few shootout scenes scattered throughout, but nothing that gets the heart pumping as you would expect from this genre. Jolivet’s film plays like a slow burn thriller which focuses more on the characters than the overall police objectives. The problem with this is the guns and drugs trafficking subplots make up a sizable portion of the film. Plus the secondary characters are so thinly written that they do not help to propel the story along smoothly. Everything about them, including how they die in some cases, is painfully predictable.
Armed Hands greatest strength is in the performances by Roschdy Zem and Leïla Bekhti as the father and daughter pair. Zem and Bekhti each bring a lot of depth to their characters and display strong chemistry with each other. It is just a shame that Jolivet does not have enough time to truly dive into their characters. In the end Armed Hands is a serviceable procedural that would have been better as a mini-series.
Armed Hands is screening on Sunday, April 7th at 1 pm at The Royal (608 College Street). Tickets can be purchased at the Cinefranco website or at the theatre.