There’s always a place in cinema for a spy thriller. But French director Thomas Kruithof’s debut feature is no Jason Bourne film. At its forefront is the middle aged Duval (Francois Cluzet), a mousy ex-office worker on a downward spiral, unemployed and alcoholic. Things seem to take a turn for the better when he’s referred to the shady Clement (Denis Podalydes), and tasked to transcribe illegal phone tapped conversations. The longer he stays on though, the further he’s thrust into the criminal underworld, caught up in a clandestine political plot that puts his life in grave danger.
Kruithof has a keen eye for setting the scene, and his filmography always instils a strong sense of mood. There is a darkness that lurks at every corner in the conspiratorial France of Scribe. Duval’s mental breakdown at his former workplace is represented by a disturbing, infinitely long, perfectly straight line of files only an obsessive could have created. As Duval wanders the streets, or he returns to his badly lit home, there’s the sense that literally anyone could pop out at anytime for a potential jump scare, an air of tension lingering. The shadow organization Duval works for is genuinely threatening: inescapable and with roots and tendrils that extend far beyond the mind can comprehend, and that in this shady world, absolutely no one can be trusted.
Francois Cluzet also delivers an incredible performance as Duval. Duval is pathetic at the beginning, on his last legs and willing to do just about anything to turn things around. His transformation into a more confident man, openly flirting with love interest Sara (Alba Rohrwacher) and taking control of his life is mesmerising to watch, and there’s an intensity to his portrayal that mixes a perpetually perplexed expression with a dose of grim determination. No matter which side of the law Duval finds himself on, there’s a sympathy for him, and you cannot help but root for this unlikely (anti)hero, even as he descends into paranoia and morally ambiguous decisions.
Scribe is an extremely well-made show, and one thing to be said is that Kruithof knows how to build up the tension and make even the least exciting scenes a flurry of action. As Duval begins his work, Kruithof makes use of montage to give the usually boring process of transcription a new burst of life, as he taps away at the typewriter and the voices of strangers fills the empty room. In the hands of its competent director, Scribe is a triumphant, sharp debut that feels both new and exciting, even if it retreads familiar tropes and plot points, and will keep you at the edge of your seat and instil a fear of turncoats, liars and spies.
Scribe is in UK cinemas and on demand from 21st July