Virginie Efira, Omar Sy, Grégory Gadebois, Payman Maadi, Emmaniel Barrouyer
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For all the worthwhile exploration of guilt and morality, via people operating under pressure, this film doesn’t quite fulfil its remit.
Director/co-writer Anne Fontaine (Coco Before Chanel, Gemma Bovery) shines a light on the role of the police in modern France with her new film, Night Shift. It starts promisingly, showing the same situations in the one day from the perspective of the three central characters (similar to the money exchange sequence from Tarantino’s Jackie Brown). This format teases out the personalities of each officer, revealing a tad more about them as the timeline repeats; one character appears out of focus in the background but is front and centre on the next pass, another is completely off screen except for his voice and is later shown at an adjoining table. Sadly, this style is only maintained for the first act, with the rest of the film reverting to a traditional narrative for the titular night shift duty.
The three leads, Virginie (Virginie Efira), Aristide (Omar Sy) and Erik (Grégory Gadebois) volunteer to escort an illegal immigrant from a Parisian detention centre to Charles de Gaulle airport to be flown back to Tajikistan. On the way to the airport, it’s discovered that the detainee, Tohirov (Payman Maadi) will most likely be tortured or killed on his return. The way the officers treat this information varies depending on their mindset, their attitude to the job and their personal baggage. Virginie is sympathetic, and her attempts to coax Tohirov to flee provide the most tense moments of the whole film. Aristide plays it cool, pretending not to care, driven by self-interest, only for his feelings for Virginie to sway him. Erik is assiduously by-the-book, ragingly dissatisfied with life and taken to sniffing alcohol as the next best option to falling off the wagon.
The theme of authority dealing with a moral wrong is pivotal in Night Shift. Whether characters from different frames of reference arrive at a commonly shared sense of humanity is the whole nub of the film. This positing reflects the way we are introduced to each officer – there’s an alternate viewpoint each time, before and during the ‘prisoner transfer’. In acting as the focal point for the police officers’ uncertainty, Maadi is fantastic. He says very little, almost nothing in French or English, as his face shifts from desperation, to mistrust, to utter panic. He’s the standout here.
For all the worthwhile exploration of guilt and morality, via people operating under pressure, this film doesn’t quite fulfil its remit. It lacks a bit of grunt and isn’t gripping enough for the circumstances. It’s not a bad film by any means but it could have been much more.