Review by James Lindorf
Racer and the Jailbird tells the tragic love story of Gino “Gigi” Vanoirbeek and Bénédicte “Bibi” Delhany. Set against the beautiful backdrop of Brussels Belgium, Gigi (Matthias Schoenaerts), a highly successful gangster, and Bibi (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a young racecar driver quickly fall for each other after being introduced by her brother. With each of them living a dangerous life, it is only a matter of time before they have to fight against fate, reason and their shortcomings if they want to stay together. Racer and the Jailbird is the latest effort from Oscar-nominated director Michaël R. Roskam and is brought to by Savage Film and Super LTD it will be available in select theaters in New York and L.A. May 4th.
Roskam describes his work as an “amour noir,” which is a very fitting description for a film that centers on being madly in love with a criminal. There are also elements of Romeo and Juliet where the two are obsessively in love, but destiny keeps trying to pull them apart. Roskam breaks his film into three sections, Gigi, Bibi, and pas de fleurs (no flowers) the first two names tell you who will be struggling the most at that time, and the third is a call back to their first date. I think the no flowers name was chosen for the final act to show that their love will be everlasting.
The movie was broken into three parts, and it contains enough story for at least the same number of films. It’s like Roskam wanted to make his version of Ocean’s 11, Stand by Your Man and Natural Born Killers but couldn’t decide what to do first, so he just incorporated them all into one movie. There are many considerably well-done elements to this film. The cinematography is excellent, Brussels is beautiful, and the action is well shot. I like our two main characters mostly because of the performances of Schoenaerts (Bullhead) and Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Color), who put in a very emotional and physical performance. You don’t usually see an actress play a version of the ideal woman and someone who is emotionally and physically broken in the same film.
Unfortunately, it is the excess story that hurts this film. Instead of telling one concise tale, we are given a movie that is closer to a 130-minute montage than it is to a film with the standard three-act structure. As a series of moments loosely strung together we never get to see and feel the evolution of our characters, it fades to black and when it comes back they different or in a different place in their relationship. The first act is easily the best, but because it was rushed, the second act feels improbable, and the final act is a bit of a curveball. I think I would love the first act as a full 2-hour movie even with the poor pacing I was still invested in the main characters.
This movie isn’t bad enough for me to warn people away nor good enough for me to recommend it without solicitation. I think some people will thoroughly enjoy this film, but it left me frustrated at what could have been. If you go in knowing this information, I think it will only enhance your enjoyment if you live in New York or L.A. find out for yourself starting this weekend.