Racer and the Jailbird is not your standard thriller, split into separate acts Michaël R. Roskam’s film is a three-part tour de force of intrigue, invention, appetite for love and that ever-lingering desire for a life that might be a pipe dream, but also seems quite reachable for so many. Led by the sensual, passionate front two of Matthias Schoenaerts and Adele Exarchopoulos, the latter you’ll know best for Blue is the Warmest Color, the film isn’t perfect but contains two characters that really melt into the mind.
Set amongst the story of a crime gang working out of Brussels, Schoenaerts plays Gigi, a mysterious, yet top-of-his-game gangster type who meets racing driver Bibi (Exarchopoulos), a woman with a career on the up in a tough, competitive environment. After they connecting at an event, they get together again and then begin a relationship that’s fraught, obsessive and full of desire but with secrets lingering that gradually scatter across their time together, the ropes are frayed from the start, but it doesn’t mean they don’t want to be together.
We get an initial backstory for Gigi, flashbacks of his youth and his father threatening him with prison but escaping under a barbed-wire fence and out-running those chasing him. It sets the scene for him as a rogue with a lot of mysterious charm. Whilst Schoenaerts offers that edge, Exarchopoulos brings her assertive nature as well, she’s as strong as he is but in a different way. They complement each other through their personalities but the underlying theme is… will Gigi always tell her the truth?
For Schoenaerts and Roskam, this is the fourth time they’ve worked together, including 2011’s Bullhead and 2014’s The Drop, so they’re a pair who know each other’s work well and this includes how far they can push the other in where they want the character to go. As initially mentioned the film has three acts, ‘Gigi’, ‘Bibi’ and ‘Pas du Fleurs’, and they vary in tone, I enjoyed the switch and even though occasional moments drag a little, the atmosphere and tension holds the intrigue.
What I also enjoyed during Racer and the Jailbird is the gritty, gloriously dark and earthy cinematography. Not only do they feature smart racing camera work, getting in close when necessary to increase the speed of the scene or tension, it also slows down during establishing shots of reflection, highlighting the human elements that grow, change and shift throughout the film. It also has one of the absolute finest heist sequences since that opening one in Heat and, as a tip; don’t watch the trailer as it’ll spoil it!
Schoenaerts and Exarchopoulos are exceptional in this compelling fast paced, thriller-laced crime drama. Roskam has created a mini-epic of storytelling, all wrapped up in love and loss. Racer and the Jailbird will keep you guessing from start to finish.