Zeitgeist Films // 2007 // 107 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // August 3rd, 2010
"Human beings of every kind caught up in the thing. Each made a contribution, and it all culminates in a murder trial."
If you recall Murder on the Orient Express, you know that's a description that could be taken literally in an Agatha Christie story. It's not literal in Towards Zero (L'Heure Zero), but this French adaptation has a few variations: it's updated from 1944 to the modern-day, and it's set along the French coast.
The human beings of every kind who will be caught up in the thing are introduced quickly: a man attempting suicide by jumping off a cliff, a detective whose daughter is pressured by a teacher into confessing to thefts she didn't commit, a rich elderly woman in a wheelchair who lives in a big house with an extra dose of spooky, a scruffy looking friend of the family, a tennis pro (Melville Poupaud, Speed Racer), his high-strung wife and her friend, and the tennis pro's ex who had a nervous breakdown. When the main characters arrive at the big, spooky house, a retired prosecutor who recalls the case of a child who committed murder ignites the mix. Two people are soon dead.
Director Pascal Thomas (Day Off) fills Towards Zero with atmosphere, eerie music, and over-the-top characters, promising a classic whodunit. The furthest over is that of Laura Smet (The Bridesmaid) as Caroline, the tennis pro's current wife. She duct tapes her husband so he'll sit to be yelled at, flies into a rage at his kindness toward his ex, and falls out of her short dress during after-dinner dancing. Smet and company make the first part of the movie highly entertaining in an excessive way.
It's also disappointing the resolution of the case depends too much on dumb luck, and Bataille seems clueless -- or at least evidence-less -- until a surprise witness comes forward. On the other hand, Bataille's dialogue hints that he had a Plan B if necessary, and he comes across as smart enough that you might even believe him.
There's an odd, surreal touch that reminded me of the original Prisoner, with musicians marching or riding through the proceedings at several points, providing the background music. I don't know what the director's point was, but it did end up with a purpose, providing a nice chuckle and a relief from the tense ominousness a few times.
The seaside location is beautiful enough that you could watch the movie as a travelogue diversion, with waves lapping on the shore, sandy beaches, dramatic cliffs, and birds flying by. The transfer captures both this and the many scenes inside the big, spooky house excellently. The sound is done well enough to pull off a trick like the one mentioned above.
There are brief flashes of breasts and couples making love, so watch at your discretion.
There are no extras, other than a trailer. A feature on translating Christie to a different time and place, or maybe even a text filmography or backgrounder on the novel would have been helpful.
It may be excessive, but Towards Zero is fun, if you're a Christie fan who doesn't mind subtitles (read the small print on the DVD box). I'll note that you have another Towards Zero option, since the story was made for British TV in 2007, the same year as L'Heure Zero.
Despite the ominousness of a few of my comments about the resolution, I'll
declare this one not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 107 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated