After an alcoholic nervous breakdown at work, middle aged, mild-mannered accountant Duval (François Cluzet) finds himself unemployed and unemployable. Two years later, he’s living an almost monastic existence, his life revolving around unsuccessful job interviews and AA meetings, cautiously entering into a tentative relationship with fellow AA attendee Sara (Alba Rohrwacher).

A call from the mysterious Clement (Denis Podalydès) leads to employment with a shadowy political organisation, transcribing illicitly procured phone-tapped conversations vital, Clement claims, to France’s national interests. He will work strictly from 9 until 6 each day in an anonymous, rented apartment, the tapes he listens to strictly numbered, using a simple typewriter as computers can be hacked. The work is secret, he must discuss it with no one.

But when Duval overhears what appears to be a murder, his carefully ordered new life begins to unravel, spiraling out of control…

A wintry Gallic riff on classic conspiracy movies of the ‘70s like The Conversation and The Parallax View, Scribe’s reluctant protagonist finds that just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t all out to get you as he’s a cog caught up in the gears of the political machine, a minor bump to be smoothed in the road to power of a right-wing conservative candidate looking to capitalise on a Middle East hostage crisis.

As Duval, Cluzet is a believable and vulnerable protagonist, a middle aged failure who can’t just quit when the going gets rough and he has a crisis of conscience; this is the real world where a job is a job and he’s past the age where he can afford such niceties while the cold eyed Podalydès is no evil Bond villain, he’s just a backdoor fixer, a manipulator rather than a machinator and there’s strong support from Simon Abkarian as one of Clement’s flunkies and Sami Bouajila as the opportunistic French cop as concerned with his own career as he is with bringing down the conspiracy, only Alba Rohrwacher failing to impress, her character having little to do other than serve as a last act plot motivation.

Moodily shot by Alex Lamarque, there’s a refreshing ambiguity to director Thomas Kruithof’s tense, murky debut feature, a political thriller that grips but never overreaches itself, serving as a timely and plausible reminder that we’re all just pawns in someone else’s game of thrones.

Movie Review: Scribe
4.0Overall Score
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