Movie Review: The Intouchables
Length: 112 minutes
Release Date: November 12, 2011
Directed by: Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano
Genre: Comedy and Drama
Stars: 4 out of 5
"The Intouchables" is a feel-good movie with an uplifting plot line and likeable lead characters. Starring François Cluzet, Omar Sy and Anne Le Ny, the movie chronicles the unlikely friendship that crosses boundaries of class, nationality and race.
The story centers on the relationship between Phillipe (played by François Cluzet) and Driss (played by Omar Sy). Phillipe is a French millionaire who was paralyzed after an accident during a paragliding expedition. Driss is an ex-convict from Senegal who lives in the poor part of town with an apartment full of his extended family. In socio-economic terms, the two men are as far apart as possible. Driss is well versed in the ways of the streets, and Phillipe has been raised on high culture.
When Phillipe needs a personal assistant to help him with the particulars of everyday life as a quadriplegic, Driss applies. Although he has no medical training, no experience and a criminal record, he gets the job. Predictably, the two men overcome their differences and form a close friendship. They learn from each other, and Driss shows Phillipe that life is worth living even in adverse circumstances.
"The Intouchables" falls into the category of films that has been dubbed the "Magic Negro" genre. In these films, a near-saintly black person arrives on the scene to act as a guiding light for a confused or lost white person. "The Green Mile" and "The Legend of Bagger Vance" are two recent examples. While the premise of "The Intouchables" is admirable and likeable, the movie leaves viewers feeling slightly uncomfortable at the end. Throughout the movie, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano-who wrote and directed the film-go to great pains to show that they believe all races are equal. As a result, they portray Driss as more of an angel than a man, skimming over reality in the process. Although the movie succeeded in France, the more race-sensitive American audiences may have trouble with the fanciful storyline.
Omar Sy, who plays Driss, shines in the lead role of "The Intouchables." His wide smile and twinkling eyes are instantly likeable, and viewers may find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer force of his onscreen charisma. He displays remarkable skill as an actor, and carries some of the more uncomfortable scenes without breaking character or making the audience doubt his motivation.
Sy is an excellent complement to François Cluzet, who plays the invalid Phillipe. In contrast to the streetwise Driss, Cluzet's Phillipe is the epitome of sophistication and elegance. Viewers will believe his emotional performance, particularly his despair at being confined to a wheelchair after a lifetime of adventure and activity. Without the strong performances from Cluzet and Sy, "The Intouchables" would fall flat.
Throughout "The Intouchables," audiences will laugh at the unlikely situations the two lead characters find themselves in. In one memorable scene, Driss disrupts a trip to the opera; in another, he brings a touch of street style to a stuffy party. The spectacle of the poverty-stricken man from Senegal in the classiest of French society events is comical. Phillipe's reaction to his assistant's antics makes him more relatable and less of a one-dimensional character.
"The Intouchables" hits all of its marks, resulting in a movie that is easy to love. Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano use perfect camera work, resulting in scenes that move seamlessly. The transitions speed by unnoticed, so viewers are not distracted by shaky, "artistic" shots or unexpected viewpoints. The technical details of the movie fade into the background, allowing the story to take center stage. The directors show the lead actors at their best-particularly Sy, whose brilliant smile fills the screen at regular intervals. The lighting is soft and realistic, creating a comfortable atmosphere that draws in the audience.
Although the bulk of the movie centers on the two lead characters, several supporting actors give admirable performances. Anne Le Ny shines as one of Phillipe's staff. Her realistic performance and down-to-earth bearing are an ideal complement to the stiffness of her wealthy boss and the street sense of his strapping personal assistant.
Overall, "The Intouchables" is an entertaining movie that is worth seeing. Although it is not subtle, the story is inherently touching-particularly for viewers who do not care to analyze the underlying racial stereotypes. The most delightful part of the film is its endearing lead actors, who carry off their roles with remarkable sophistication and grace. The story is sweet and funny, with moments that will make viewers laugh and cry.