The Big Picture (2010) sees director Eric Lartigau attempt to adapt Douglas Kennedy’s US-based novel of the same name within a French setting. Considering the wealth of well-made thrillers to emerge from the French film industry, it seems like the perfect environment in which to tackle Kennedy’s prose. Starring current French heartthrob Romain Duris, The Big Picture is a film built around its multi-layered protagonist, which likes to ask many questions – but which answers very few.
Paul Exben (Duris) is a successful lawyer and partner of a prestigious Parisian law firm. His life style suits his career, with a prodigious home, a glamorous wife and two well cared for young sons. However, he harbours a repressed passion to be a photographer, an ambition which makes the discovery of his wife’s affair with local photographer Greg Kremer (Eric Ruf) difficult to swallow – with these internal feelings of rage resulting in Paul accidentally killing his wife’s lover. Paul quickly realises that this one fleeting moment of anguish means his picture perfect lifestyle will soon be nothing but a cherished memory, so decides to fake his own death, steal Greg’s identity and flee to the Adriatic coast – where he begins to re-build his life from scratch the way he’d always dreamt it would be.
Lartigau shrouds Paul’s life into darkness through a collection of beautifully lit shots that add a sumptuous gloss to the proceedings. Brilliantly representing the guilt and despair which surrounds the film’s protagonists shattered life, Lartigau has created a film which pulls you into its character’s fraught situation through some stunning visual panache.
Sadly, The Big Picture’s middle act dilutes this stylish approach, with Paul’s transformation feeling all too sluggish. Some incomprehensible plot twists result in what feels like a string of all too convenient narrative strands which also make it all the harder to fully emerge yourself in Paul’s conversion into Greg. Even the welcome cameos of Catherine Deneuve and Niels Arestrup can’t hide what is an unfortunate stumbling block for a film which relies so heavily on the audience rationalising internally what they would do in a similar situation.
Duris puts in an incredible performance, perfectly portraying the vulnerability of his character and successfully conveying the feelings of loss and later redemption that his character goes through. He wonderfully manoeuvres through the gamut of human emotions, completing a full character revolution. From loving father, Indecisive murderer to eventual re-discovered artist, Duris’ performance is so compelling that the audience never loses sympathy towards his situation – despite the gravity of his crimes.
A magnified portrait of self discovery, The Big Picture is an assured adaptation that whilst beautifully shot and wonderfully acted sadly never seems to mould perfectly together. Whilst the story remains absorbing enough, The Big Picture never manages to lodge itself comfortably in the subconscious – not philosophical enough to transcend its thriller status, yet lacking the exhilaration required to be taken as an escapist piece of high drama.