Dheepan ★★★½

For the majority of its run time, Jacques Audiard’s latest is a gently, carefully composed movie that becomes, and remains riveting on account of the succession of small details through which it builds itself. The story of three Sri Lankans who have fled their homeland in the immediate aftermath of the civil war, trying to establish for themselves some kind of peaceful life on an estate block in France doesn’t go in for melodrama, or simplistic characterizations, it’s the work of filmmakers who know how to achieve great magnetism via minimalism, and I found the whole thing to be a truly enveloping experience.

The closely framed photography, the naturalistic but vivid characterizations, the sheer lived in and authentic quality of the world in which these three people find themselves ensures there is plenty to get you involved in a movie low on exposition, low on action, heavy on incident, on relationships, on character development. Say what you will about Audiard’s movies, but I don’t really think you can fault his technique.

Then comes the final act, and for me it doesn’t quite match up to all that has come before it. I’m not sure I completely buy the quickly escalated nature of Dheepan’s dramatic switch, and all that follows. In a movie that has been so careful, and considered in slowly building its characters up, in adding layers to them, and rounding them out bit by bit, the very sudden out of character behaviour just doesn’t work. Still, it’s undoubtedly still highly dramatic stuff, and it’s only in literally the very final moments of the movie that we get material so bad that for me it threatens to derail the movie in its entirety. For me the movies coda feels like the sort of scene you’d get in a big budget blockbuster in which one too many suits have interfered, and one too many test screenings have been had.

So. ultimately I find that at least on a first viewing, and at least for someone not especially educated in the history that has inspired this story, Dheepan is a movie that for all of its Cannes winning credentials, and arthouse pedigree, ultimately on account of its disappointing denouement ends up working best, for me at least, as one of those revenge thrillers. You know the ones. Man with violent past goes straight, only to be drawn back into the life he’d tried to escape. It’s an age old story, it’s been told many times, in many countries, under many different guises, and unfortunately I don’t feel like Jacques Audiard has brought anything new to the conversation. It’s a damn shame, because for well over half its run time Dheepan is a movie that with its side stepping of cliches, and refusal to take the easy route to any end seems to be building up to be something really special.