22 Bullets

Director: Richard Berry
Starring: Jean Reno, Kad Merad
Runtime: 117 mins
Rating: **

The main character of 22 Bullets clearly never saw The Godfather, or at least he stopped watching it before the attempted assassination of Vito Corleone. Gangster Charly Matteï may be retired, but staying away from the drug trade, loving his family, and trying to be as principled as possible is a mistake which leaves him miraculously surviving a gangland shooting – miraculous not just because he survived, but also because the Orient Express-like quantity of assailants all managed to hide their faces in a murder where concealment should never have been necessary.

This setup of a French film whose original title was L’immortel allows its hero to track down his enemies whilst simultaneously vying to maintain his honour. If we’re being cynical, it’s also a good way of casting an ageing, national star in an action film, as he can take his revenge without us expecting him to run too much. But this wouldn’t really matter if 22 Bullets wasn’t trying so hard to be an action film in the first place. Jean Reno’s running and jumping capabilities at age 62 may be questionable, but his acting credentials certainly aren’t, and it’s his presence alone which saves the film.

What’s frustrating is that the fascinating figure around which Matteï is based deserves more than the chasing and killing Reno is tasked with. Jacky Imbert, the subject of the novel optioned for 22 Bullets, was a major figure in the post-war Marseilles criminal underworld, and survived being shot with at least 7 bullets lodged in his body. He took violent revenge for which he was never found guilty, moved to the Caribbean, and after returning to Europe was recently jailed, at the age of 77, for extortion.

It seems like the source material could have provided for a stronger dynamic than that between the eccentric, sadistic, disloyal bad guy criminals and the diverse set of family-loving good guy criminals that make up most of the film’s ensemble. The police side of the tale is no more inventive, following the same moral preoccupations as Matteï’s story by placing a recently widowed young mother (Marina Foïs) with an uncaring, politicking boss, at the heart of the hunt. It’s enjoyable watching Reno, but this predictability and cinematic typicality in 22 Bullets is more frustrating than it is fun.