Revenge films are predictably formulaic in so far as they usually involve the kidnap of children and the needless murder of a family pet – it’s never going to end well for the guy that kills the dog. 22 Bullets is no exception to the rule, aside from the fact that it’s French and not American. Played by the coolest Frenchman ever (Jean Reno), Charley Mattei is a retired marseillais gangster who is dragged back into the murky world of the Mafia when he is shot – that’s right; you guessed it – 22 times in an underground car park. As the film’s French title suggests, our hero manages to survive against the odds and proceeds to hunt down those responsible. And oh yeah, there’s also a maverick cop who doesn’t get on with her boss and is determined to get to the bottom of all this bloodshed. But you knew that already, didn’t you?
It might seem like I’m being overly critical of Richard Berry’s latest film but it’s really not that bad. Sure it’s formulaic, but at the end of the day it’s a formula that works. The casting and cinematography are also noteworthy and Reno gives one of his best performances since Léon. I frequently found myself on the verge of really liking this film and then Mattei would go and ruin it by speeding off on a motorbike, providing the audience with a token car chase.
22 Bullets, a French gangster movie, was always going to be up against it in light of the Oscar nominated A Prophet (Un prophète), a film which is frequently mentioned in the same sentence as The Godfather. Although not as subtle as Jacques Audiard’s film, Berry succeeds in proving that it is possible to create a big action blockbuster outside of the Hollywood enclave. At the end of the day it’s a pretty good version of what it is: a pop-out gangster/revenge flick which is likely to hammer A Prophet at the box-office.