Film Review: Racer and the Jailbird

Director and co-writer Michaël R. Roskam’s Racer and the Jailbird genre flips, but not in the best possible way. The film is engaging at times, but does not sustain this throughout. 

Gigi and Bibi come from very different backgrounds. Gigi pulls off heists with his childhood gang, whilst Bibi is a racing driver from a wealthy family. They fall in love, but Gigi’s profession gets in the way…

Following The Drop, director Roskam mixes a crime thriller with a melodrama with his latest film. Racer and the Jailbird is a love story; one that is turbulent only with regards to other factors. The romance itself is effortless, as Bibi and Gigi fall in love almost from their first encounter. 

The narrative is rather predictable, at least for the first half of the film. To begin with, it feels like Roskam and co-writers Thomas Bidegain and Noé Debré are following the familiar trope of the bad guy quitting his life of crime after falling in love. Racer and the Jailbird distinguishes itself from other films of this ilk by spending sufficient time exploring what happens next. Unfortunately this means the tension of earlier sequences is not replicated. 

The second half of the film is more of a melodrama than crime thriller. At times, Bibi’s character is frustrating. It is clear the couple are in love, yet her unwavering support of Gigi stretches the audiences sympathy. At least what occurs in the final third is not as predictable as the film’s previous developments.  

Performances from Matthias Schoenaerts and Adèle Exarchopoulos are good; the pair have decent chemistry. Bibi’s character does get a raw deal – Gigi has a negative impact on her life. The film shows that crime doesn’t pay, but the detriment of one party from an uneven relationship is the bigger story here. Some tired tropes appear, such as the nationality of gangsters later in the film. 

Overall, Racer and the Jailbird takes the heat out of the thriller. In subverting a key trope it does something that is different, but not necessarily satisfying. 

Racer and the Jailbird is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2017.

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