Go to Homepage   With a Friend Like Harry: Understated Tension


Crescent Blues Book ViewsImage:three and a half moon gifMiramax (DVD), ASIN B00005NTN4
Harry (Sergi Lopez) will do whatever it takes for his friend Michel (Laurent Lucas), without asking for anything in return. Harry's an affable gent, a little too skittish to be charming but not enough for alarms to go off. And he's not above buying an SUV with cash out of his own pocket. Murder anyone, too, particularly if he sees the victim as being in the way of his benefactor's personal growth potential.

DVD: With a friend like harryThrillers tend to under-explain the psycho -- often a wise choice. The brilliant turn With A Friend Like Harry makes concerns Michel. Only in a movie so determined against overheating story and character could performances of such unbetraying blankness carry any weight, make any implication, let alone generate can't-turn-away-from-it tension. One fine day, while on vacation with his wife Claire and their brood, Michel chances upon Harry in a highway rest stop. Michel doesn't recognize Harry at all. Frankly nobody would -- he comes across as a French Takeshi Kitano, Columbo and Dilbert all rolled into one vaguely receding hairline. Harry quotes one of Michel's poems from memory. With Michel's ego properly stroked, Harry begins his insinuation into Michel's life.

Utterly unharried, With A Friend Like Harry's casual but never sloppy pace underlines the staid work of the two male leads. Harry loves -- and I mean really, really, really loves Michel's writing. He will kill anyone who strays from his view. While Harry's words express passion, and his actions go overboard, Michel's ultimate actions disturb even more, no matter how much they return order, balance and justice. They seem to be automatic and even more dispassionate than Harry's. Michel rights the balances, but for what? For a vaguely stifling family life? To renew his creative vigor? Once it broaches the startling possibility that Michel may own less of a conscience than Harry, the film rightly chooses a path of zero melodrama. Harry and Michel decide their courses of action as easily as they order lunch.

The filming squares straight along with this approach. It offers no stylized claustrophobia, no spatial restrictions (nor by contrast any grand space or scenery either). The film might as well be capturing a typical day, the happenings in this film seem so incidental and therefore that much more tension-fraught.

Michael Pacholski

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