Paul is a small-time crook, ripping off construction businesses by usurping identities and reselling equipment he acquires. His travels bring him to a small town where his false identity (Philippe Miller) brings hope that a stalled highway construction project will finally get underway and let the inhabitants get out of the financial crisis they are in.
Town folks and local companies are all too eager to trust this stranger who inadvertently brings hope and when they begin to talk numbers and even bribe him, Paul decides to seize this golden opportunity. At first, he is awkward in his Philippe Miller persona but quickly gains assurance.
This part of the story plays much like a false identity con, not unlike Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can. But lately, French cinema has excelled in portraying work, economic and social issues and this film is no exception. The more "Philippe" stays in town, the more he gets to know the people in this town, their hopes, dreams and their problems.
And so, the line begins to blur between Paul and Philippe, especially as the project itself takes life. Of course, suspicion arises every so often about whether "Philippe" is really who he pretends to be but are always rapidly squashed, because "at least, things are happening".
What is fascinating is to see almost the whole town, in a certain way, complicit with Paul's scam-turning-into-good-deed. Even Paul himself forgets about the easy money and becomes obsessed with finishing the highway project. We as viewers can't help but wonder if the townsfolk couldn't have made it happen by themselves had they had common will to do so.
The movie becomes less and less about a heist and more and more about project management by a man way over his head. The direction by Xavier Giannoli is tight, evocative and right on target. The amazing score by the underrated Cliff Martinez is perfect and beautiful, immersing us in this story that is part drama, part thriller. The entire cast was well chosen and all are believable but this is very much a film following lead actor François Cluzet, one of France's best actor who keeps on getting better and better even in his 50s now. Cluzet oozes charisma and could lead any big production.
People who enjoy thrillers such as the aforementioned Catch Me If You Can or dramas such as Up In the Air should have a great time watching this great film that tells an amazing and original story inspired by true events that took place in the 90s.
In the Beginning
In the Beginning
France, present day. A professional conman passes himself off as the boss of a construction site building a highway extension. He cons the whole region, hires dozens of workers and cynically enjoys the profits of his scam until he meets the lady mayor of a small village that the road will go through. She intrigues and unsettles him, before revealing to him a world he never knew: feelings. How far will he go now to save his victims and save himself from his own lies? —The Film Catalogue
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