Imagine the scene, you are a top class safe breaking expert from the good old US of A, you are short of work so accept an old friend's offer to fly to Paris and assist in his bank robbery plan. He is welcoming and provides a night out on the town, the darker side of Paris, a stream of underground bars and enough chemicals to flatten an elephant, not being used to excessive drug abuse you pass out and are awoken to be told it is time to rob the bank.
This is the situation that Zed (Eric Stoltz) finds himself in when he agrees to help Eric (Jean-Hughes Anglade), an old school friend. The film starts with Zed arriving in Paris and he books into a hotel for the night, before ordering a prostitute - enter Zoe (Julie Delphy). A night of passion is rudely interrupted when the disturbed Eric arrives and throws Zoe out. He takes Zed to meet the gang, then the aforementioned male bonding and drug abuse happens. In the morning Zed is woken and bundled into a van, the next thing he knows they are entering the bank in daft masks and pointing guns at people. Zed heads straight down to the safe and begins work.
It soon becomes pretty obvious that these guys are clueless amateurs who probably shouldn't have taken their bank-robbing plan beyond the drunken pub conversation stage. I won't give away what happens but the whole thing basically descends into disaster, look out for the scene with the mouthy American (a true classic). It transpires that Zoe works in the bank (her day job) and her and Zed have to try and get out alive while Eric goes crazy.
The name Tarantino is usually associated with this film but he was only one of three executive producers and this is unlike any of his other films (apart from the subject matter). The real man responsible was writer/director Roger Avery and he deserves full credit for a brilliant script and fantastic direction. The dialogue is great, funny in places, and the direction is excellent, there are countless scenes I could mention but in particular - the scene in the underground bar is very well done, a druggy, dreamy haze.
As for the acting, I thought Jean-Hughes Anglade totally stole the show. He was completely convincing as the twisted, bitter, French, junkie bank robber. I regret to say I can't remember seeing him anywhere else but I would like to. Eric Stoltz was competent and quite believable but his character was a little on the dull side. Julie Delphy was excellent as usual and incredibly easy on the eye. I also think Gary Kemp is worthy of mention. Having left his pop background behind with The Krays, he again plays a criminal here and very convincingly. His character, Oliver, is a London cokehead who fancies himself as a hard man, Kemp plays it to perfection, I thought the scene where he was playing with his shotgun was especially funny and well-observed.
You get an impression of what Paris is like, though it isn't the usual romantic setting here. Instead we are given a glimpse of the underground, the seedy bar and even seedier flat, which the assorted criminal gang inhabit. The rest of the film is set in the bank and it is not until the very end that we are given a glimpse of the more picturesque side of the city.
This film is action packed from start to end, it is dark, violent, fast-paced and very stylish. The soundtrack is well chosen and really accentuates the action scenes. The band of bank-robbers assembled by Eric are all totally believable and totally incompetent. It was the Frenchman who really made this film for me though, he is a maniac and the final revelation about his motivations packed quite a punch. It was refreshing to see a film set in Paris with an international cast, and Avery did enough, I thought, to avoid just retreading old ground (the bank robbery storyline isn´t new but he has a fresh twist). All in all this film is tremendous, well worth watching for Anglade's performance alone.