She may not get as much kudos as Meryl Streep, but Kristin Scott Thomas is one of the most riveting actresses working today and, being bilingual, she seamlessly moves between prime English- and French-speaking roles.
This time it’s expert French director Alain Corneau who, in his last film, has given her another juicy role in “Love Crime,” a thriller centered around some very nasty office politics. Scott Thomas plays Christine, a cool, calculating executive in the Paris office of a large American agribusiness.
Newcomer Ludivine Sagnier is Isabelle, her brilliant, beautiful and much younger assistant. Ever since Bette Davis warned us to fasten our seat belts for a bumpy ride in “All About Eve,” it’s not hard to guess what’s in store. But the world of ambitious actresses has nothing on the sexual politics of the corporate ladder.
At first Christine seems to be a benevolent boss, encouraging Isabelle, giving her expensive gifts, even ambiguously flirting with her. But as she gives her more responsibilities like a prime business trip to Cairo and a handsome co-worker as company, it soon becomes clear that every move is manipulated, even down to whom Isabelle sleeps with.
While at first a compliant and devoted acolyte, Isabelle begins to question her blind loyalty when Christine increasingly takes credit for her superior ideas. When a fellow worker bee starts to fuel Isabelle’s doubts about Christine’s seemingly all-for-one mantra, she grabs an opportunity to shine with head-office honchos by taking the lead on a project behind Christine’s back. But this is one boss you don’t mess with, and Christine’s retaliation is volcanic and sadistic as she publicly humiliates Isabelle in front of her co-workers.
To reveal more would spoil the delicious cat-and-mouse game of these two women as they fight for supremacy in the workplace. Suffice to say that the crime of the title leads to an intricate CSI-like revenge plot in the second half of the movie, and it seems one of these women is brilliant enough to turn the tables and literally get away with murder.
Corneau, who died of lung cancer shortly after the film’s French release last year, was mostly known for his taut police and crime dramas, set in male-dominated worlds, but in “Love Crime” he created two masterful female roles, and Scott Thomas and Sagnier are equally as compelling as the high-heeled, perfectly polished perfume warriors.
The film does dangerously teeter on a diverting division as it falls into two distinct parts. At first we are so involved with the office chess game that it takes a while to adjust to the film’s new pacing in the second half, when it turns into a meticulous crime procedural — I missed the vibrant interplay of the two leads. But Corneau supplies enough twists and turns that, even though we learn who did it in this whodunit, we are kept guessing and entertained to the last scene.
KATHERINE TULICH has written about film for more than 20 years. A Sydney, Australia native, she was the film critic and feature writer for the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian correspondent for the Hollywood Reporter, and a guest critic on “At the Movies” with Ebert and Roeper. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.