Review by: Dave Griffiths
Director Paul Verhoeven is certainly a director that has never picked a genre and stuck to it over the years. While he was the man who helmed action blockbusters like RoboCop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers he was also the man behind controversial and erotic films like Show Girls and Basic Instinct. Verhoeven certainly hasn’t mellowed over the years and his latest film, Elle, sees him return to his controversial side that he does so well.
The film centres around Michele LeBlanc (Isabelle Huppert – Amour), a woman who is surrounded by fractured relationships. Her relationship with her gigolo-loving mother, Irene (Judith Magre – Nathalie) has never been the same since her father went on a murderous spree that still sees the family talked about on television decades later. She pretends to be on good terms with her ex-husband, Richard (Charles Berling – Summer Hours) but is jealous of his new partner while even her relationship with her son, Vincent (Jonas Bloquet – 3 Days To Kill) is starting to become strained as she constantly fights with his pregnant partner. Just to add more issues to her life she has having an affair with her best friend and business partner’s husband while also making moves on her married neighbour.
Even Michele’s work life has its problems. While her video game company has become successful in creating violent and sexually orientated video games she has regular disagreements with one of her most talented workers, Kurt (Lucas Prisor – Young & Beautiful). Then her life changes forever when she is sexually assaulted her own home. Because of the past with her father she decides not to report the crime to the Police but instead decides to hunt down the man who has violated her… something that becomes even more dangerous when she starts to realise that it is someone that knows her well.
Like a lot of Verhoeven’s films Elle is not a movie for those that are easily offended. The assault on Michele is both confronting and graphic, while the behaviour of her character afterwards is more than likely going to surprise audience members right around the world. From the fact that she ‘blurts out’ the experience to her friends and ex over dinner at a fancy restaurant to the fact she continues working on a game with sexually violent scenes certainly isn’t what most movie goers would expect to see, while her actions after she discovers the man who has attacked her will leave many people dumbfounded.
Still despite the controversial and graphic nature of this film it is a brilliantly crafted psychological thriller that leaves films like The Girl On The Train for dead. Verhoeven and his screenwriter, David Birke (13 Sins), make Michele an unlikable character but then at the same time have the audience wanting her to find who attacked her, no matter how ruthless or immoral her actions are. To be able to do that means that these are filmmakers at the top of their game. This team also brilliantly make sure that the film doesn’t fall into any of the old clichés that these cat and mouse films do tend to do at times, and the result is a beautifully written thriller that keeps the audience on the edge of their seat as they can never predict what it going to happen next. I’m even thankful to be able to say that there is no clichéd finale either.
The film is also littered with brilliant acting performances led by Isaballe Huppert whose performance is going to make her very hard to beat for the coveted Best Actress Oscar. Huppert brilliantly drifts from being a hardened woman in control of her life, to a victim and then back again with an ease that puts many other actresses to shame.
When it comes Oscar’s time don’t be too surprised if Elle doesn’t rake in the nominations. This is a film that deserves to be nominated for Best Picture, not just Best Foreign Language Film. While Verhoeven already has a very decorated career this is just the crown on top of it all as this is one of the best psychological thrillers in cinematic history.