A man in tactical gear sits in his van, a loaded pistol resting on his nervously bouncing knee. Three other men are with him, all armed and staking out a police station. Inside are eight kilos of cocaine confiscated from a drug lord named Adama (Eriq Ebouaney) and he has sent his men to take it back. This tense and well-shot opening is the best scene in the new French action thriller “Earth and Blood”. The scene teases a tough and gritty crime story. Instead we get a surprisingly thin action flick that runs out of ideas despite barely clocking in at 80 minutes.
The film’s biggest asset is Sami Bouajila’s rock solid lead performance. He plays Saïd, a strong silent type who runs a struggling sawmill left to him by his father-in-law. He lives onsite with his hearing-impaired daughter Sarah (Sofia Lesaffre). One of his employees is Yanis (Samy Seghir), a troubled teen out on parole and trying to get his life together. Yanis’ half-brother is Medhi (Redouanne Harjane), one of the gang members from the opening police station scene. Do you follow me so far?
It turns out Medhi isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. He manages to retrieve the drugs but instead of returning them to the drug lord he decides to keep the eight kilos and sell it himself. Brilliant. I mean if the Adama was willing to knock off a police station to get his cocaine back surely he would after one of his goons who double-crossed him. Nonetheless Medhi coerces Yanis to take the getaway car (with the coke in the trunk) and hide it at the sawmill.
Obviously the plan doesn’t pan out. Saïd finds the stashed dope and knows Adama will be coming for it. The film’s second half is basically one long scene – Adama and his henchmen armed with AK-47s hunting Saïd around the sawmill which he knows like the back of his hand. At the same time he entrusts Yanis with getting his daughter to safety. Easier said than done.
All of that sounds great and you can see the ingredients for a good action movie stew. But director and co-writer Julien Leclercq never gets things above room temperature. There’s no sizzle, no tension, no excitement past that opening sequence. The entire film is shot well and it makes great use of location. But everything is so by-the-book and the action (which is the film’s bread and butter) lacks spark. It doesn’t help that the characters are sketched so thin. We get a couple of early scenes attempting to add depth to Saïd but nothing is really done past that. And outside of one lone instance, any potentially compelling use of Sarah’s deafness never comes into play.
I love that Netflix is reaching out and bringing in films from all over the globe. The international diversity in their portfolio is great to see. “Earth and Blood” had all the markings of a cool French cinema addition and to be honest, there are worse ways to spend 80 minutes. Leclercq knows his way around with the camera and Bouajila’s sturdy lead performance provides us with somewhat of a rooting interest. But so much of its story seems to be missing and its characters never get the depth they desperately need.
VERDICT – 2 STARS