The shape-shifting antihero of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley seeks a new identity out of desire and class ambition, and slips out of his old one as naturally as a molting snake. The Big Picture, based on Douglas Kennedy’s novel (which makes the film a French-ification like Tell No One, based on a Harlan Coben novel), effectively twists Highsmith’s story so the identity change comes from a complicated mix of necessity and desire, crisis and opportunity. The main character, an upper-middle-class professional from Paris, gets himself in a position where he needs to cover up a crime, but the cover-up, in spite of its wrenching consequences, is also the ticket to another life, one potentially more meaningful than the one he has to abandon. For most of the way, right up until a hastily contrived and deeply unsatisfying ending, the film perceptively sketches a fractured identity, a man who enters a new life carrying painful remnants of the old.
Ever the scruffy bohemian even in a suit and tie, Romain Duris (The Beat That My Heart Skipped) stars as a successful businessman undone by two pieces of bad news: His partner and mentor at his firm, played by Catherine Deneuve, announces that she’s terminally ill, and his beautiful wife (Marina Foïs), the mother of his two girls, may be having an affair with a photographer. His reluctance to take over the firm already gives him one foot out the door, but when he confronts the photographer and accidentally kills him, the other foot follows. Though leaving his children nearly wrecks him, Duris resolves to stage his death in a boating accident, assume the victim’s identity, and set up shop in Montenegro, where he takes up photography with surprising competence.
Duris plays it close to the vest. His anguish over never seeing his kids again is plain enough, but there’s a compelling ambiguity to the degree with which he embraces a new life and love while dealing with the guilt over his actions and all he’s left behind. Co-writer/director Eric Lartigau wisely observes this creature from a safari’s distance, admiring his Ripley-like adaptability, but never getting close enough to account for his decisions too bluntly. It’s unfortunate that Lartigau sends The Big Picture so far off the grid in the final 10 minutes, which whiffs of someone who’s written himself into a corner and cheated his way out. Duris—and Ripley, for that matter—can get out of corners more deftly.