Cops Simon (Lindon) and Frank (Lellouche) are career policemen who’ve seen it all, done it all but still give their lives to the job. Best friends as well as colleagues, the two are recovering from an accident several years earlier where Simon, driving drunk after a party with Frank as a passenger, collided with another car, killing its passengers. Haunted by this tragedy, Simon is a shell of a man having pushed away his wife and is now struggling to maintain a relationship with his son. Said son unfortunately witnesses an attempted murder by crime boss Pastor and his goons and now finds himself their prime target. Relentlessly pursuing the child and his mother, Pastor will not give up, forcing Simon back into action (along with his ever faithful partner Frank) in order to save his son.
French director Fred Cavaye already has two impressive action thrillers to his name: his brilliant debut Anything for Her (remade as the Russell Crowe thriller The Next Three Days) and the equally impressive Point Blank (remade as the Korean thriller The Target). Both of these are fine examples of French action cinema that manage an admirable balance between dramatic grit and tense action. Cavaye continues this trend in Mea Culpa, delivering a hat trick of tense action thrillers. The film is a relatively short but very sweet blast of momentum and tension as the set-up is mainly used to fuel an adrenaline surging chase that escalates and escalates as the cops retaliate against Pastor only for him to then retaliate with full force. With some skilfully slick camerawork and editing, Cavaye keeps the exhilarating pace throughout as Pastor and his men will absolutely not stop until Simon and his family are dead.
This leads to a surfeit of impressive action scenes including a tense shootout in a nightclub and a thrilling chase cum fight aboard a moving train that make an impression thanks to Cavaye’s assured hand. Utilising real locations and stunts in favour of outlandish CGI, the action has real grit to it making it tougher and more thrilling and not just there for the sake of eye candy. Sure it perhaps gets a little unbelievable towards the end (and the bad guys aren’t exactly subtle in their attempts to kill Simon and his family and therefore create loads more witnesses to their crimes!), but for the most part this is great stuff. Plus how many other director’s make a point of showing one of the heroes crashing his car as he tries to make a phone call in the middle of a high speed chase?
Lindon and Lellouche are great as the tough but kindly cops, looking the part and making one believe they have been friends for a while. Even the kid is pretty good: neither annoyingly know-it-all nor disappointingly bland but rather acts, well, like a normal kid. For those critics who like their precious plots and can’t help but go on about them, Mea Culpa’s narrative may be a little too streamlined for their liking but it works in favour of the chase aspect and there is enough context given for one to care about what is happening to the characters. However, a late act reveal doesn’t quite hold up (but by no means ruins proceedings) and while as good as Mea Culpa is, it unfortunately doesn’t feel quite as fresh as Anything for Her or Point Blank.
Still, Cavaye is a director to watch and Mea Culpa does deliver unpretentious and fantastically staged 80s style action thrills with aplomb.
Mea Culpa is out in UK cinemas on 5th December, released by Metrodome.
Review by Andrew Skeates