22 Bullets [l'immortel] Movie Review
Charly (Reno) retired from his job as a Marseilles mob boss to spend time with his family. But someone has it in for him, and after he survives being shot 22 times, Charly and a cop (Fois) start looking for who did it. Charly immediately turns to the other local bosses (Merad and Berry), childhood friends with whom he took a vow of loyalty. But soon all-out war breaks out between thugs on various sides, and the division of loyalty isn't as clear-cut as it should be.
Reno is terrific in the role as a haunted man who knows he can never escape his violent past ("Spilled blood never dries," he says). He's such a compelling central character that he holds our attention even as seemingly hundreds of other people crowd around him. It's virtually impossible to keep track of who's who and which side everyone's on, but as Charly steadily moves through each scene, like the calm point in a storm, we feel like we're in safe hands.
And Berry has an assured directorial hand, skilfully navigating both the action and emotion to draw us in right from the opening shot. Yes, this is still a Besson-produced romp, with loads of brutal set pieces and an almost overpowering sense of violent retribution, but unlike Besson's other big thrillers (like Taken), this one has a soulfulness that lets us identify with its characters even in the most grisly situations.
And it gets very grisly indeed. For someone who has taken a vow of pacifism, Charly metes out extremely brutal vengeance. In Besson World, he is driven to this by the viciousness of those who are coming after him. Fair enough. Except that Charly exceeds everyone else's cruelty at each turn while indulging in rather selective morality. This senseless mayhem makes us pause, knowing that something is deeply wrong with the premise. But it's so entertaining that we let the filmmakers off the hook.