THE STORY – Based on incredible true events, Jérome Salle’s gripping new espionage thriller depicts the remarkable story of a French public servant who unwittingly finds himself in conflict with one of the modern era’s most powerful and dangerous forces: Russia’s FSB. Gilles Lellouche stars as Mathieu, a gregarious and dedicated diplomat who accepts a posting to Irkutsk as the head of Siberia’s Alliance Francaise. He hopes the change will be good for his family and struggling marriage, but before long, Mathieu’s staging of cultural events and support of artistic expression sees him fall afoul of local authorities. Accused of a terrible crime, he soon realizes someone has fabricated a case with Russia’s Federal Security Service – he has been framed. Arrested, imprisoned, and isolated, Mathieu has nowhere to turn. Defending himself is impossible, the French authorities are helpless – it seems he has no choice: to try and escape.
THE CAST – Gilles Lellouche, Joanna Kulig & Louis-Do de Lencquesaing
THE TEAM – Jérôme Salle (Director/Writer) & Caryl Ferey (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 127 Minutes
It’s sometimes difficult to remember that the world pertaining to the suspicion of spies is not typically a flashy or flamboyant spectacle. Certain cinematic franchises may have put a stylized sheen over this landscape, but the truth is often more grounded in nature. It can also be an environment that is rough and violent, with many who fall within its target the victim of terrible misfortune. Some participants do not even need to be active players in the service themselves. All it takes is for a sequence of events to be enacted, which finds them ensnared in a greater plot that consumes them, frequently through cruel and baseless incentives. That premise is at the heart of the film “Kompromat,” an exercise with some intriguing elements that ultimately comes up short of becoming wholly engaging.
The film’s namesake regards a process committed by Russian intelligence forces, one in which an active and heavily manipulated campaign is executed in order to tarnish the reputation of prominent figures that are seen as dissidents. It is what Mathieu Roussel (Gilles Lellouche) has found himself caught within. Working in Siberia as a French cultural ambassador, he has already started to provoke the ire of some high-ranking officials. Whether it was a controversial art performance that featured two men kissing or the implication he may be having an affair with an FSB officer’s daughter-in-law, some act has now seen Roussel at the hands of these authorities. He has been arrested on charges of child molestation and threatened with over ten years in prison. Fearful of this wrongful conviction and the horrible prison standards he’s already endured, he decides to flee, hopefully arriving at a safe destination and avoiding those that are determined to track him down.
Director Jérôme Salle does manage to craft some moments of tension within the film that are captivating if a tad broadly drawn. The tone of the filmmaking wants to present a suspenseful tale of a wronged man escaping injustice, and it occasionally finds compelling areas to explore. However, it is not consistently maintained and regularly succumbs to a more sluggish momentum. The thriller aspects can quickly turn laborious, and the screenplay from Salle and Caryl Ferey indulges in basic characterizations with weak motivations. The attempts to build out the characters’ personal lives offer little investment, particularly with a shallow romance instigated by the protagonists that does not earn any of the emotional catharsis. Despite the potential of an exhilarating concept, there is a mundanity to the execution that leaves much to be desired.
As the anchor to this harrowing story, Lellouche happens to be another inconsistent feature. There are times when he can be quite commanding, and the desperation he finds himself in moving from one dire situation to the next feels quite grounded. At the same time, there are too many occasions when his boastfulness feels more like overacting, and what should be alluring moments of drama instead fall flat against a hollow performance. There are many more amusing players from the supporting cast. Joanna Kulig’s role as the other lover caught in the crosshairs of this plot is not the most interesting, but she carries an inviting aura that is fascinating to watch. Similarly, Aleksey Gorbunov is Roussel’s hired lawyer, and he delivers a presence that is stern yet playful enough to be entertaining. His time is brief, but he makes an impact, much more so than the bland villains that populate the rest of the ensemble.
Throughout the entirety of “Kompromat,” one is never quite sure exactly has trigged the assault on Roussel. That is actually one of the more provocative elements of the storytelling, the fact that the exact nature of the offense is inconsequential in the grand scheme. What matters is that something innocuous may spark powerful forces into action and how dangerous such a state of living can become. It’s a shame that such a stimulating topic is not mined to the fullest. The filmmaking provides a mostly banal experience, with the script’s lack of nuance and insipid lead especially underwhelming. Despite a handful of supporting players utilized to brighten up the display, the film is ultimately an average analysis of a dark and seedy realm. It’s a shame that such endeavors were not more invigorating.