Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
IN THE NAME OF MY DAUGHTER | 116 min | R
Directed by: André Téchiné
Starring: Guillaume Canet, Catherine Deneuve, Adèle Haenel, Jean Corso
There are very few true-crime films that tend to switch genres two-thirds of the way in. Yet here we are with co-writer/ director André Téchine’s IN THE NAME OF MY DAUGHTER. What begins as a fairly straight-forward and nuanced true-crime picture jarringly switches to a sub-standard courtroom drama in the third act. Feeling more in line with a blasé made-for-TV-movie, the film coasts mostly on the strength of the stellar ensemble’s performances and Nice’s gorgeous scenery. It’s just too bad that better material, and an auteur’s eye, wasn’t afforded to them.
Agnès Le Roux (Adèle Haenel) is fresh off a divorce when she returns home to claim her inheritance money from her wealthy casino-owning mother, Renée (Catherine Deneuve), who is going through some problems of her own. Renée’s seaside casino, the Palais de la Méditerranée, is hemorrhaging money with local mafia kingpin/ casino competitor Fratoni (Jean Corso) threatening to bury her business. Since Renée is unable to buy her daughter out, Agnès remains on the board – but little does Renée know this decision will lead to her downfall. Playing both sides of the field is Maurice Agnelet (Guillaume Canet), Renée’s slippery but smart business adviser and lawyer. After Maurice is inconsiderately passed over for a promotion, he takes matters into his own hands, pitting a daughter against her own mother. Only that’s not this film’s climax – murder and mayhem are yet to come.
When you read the real-life details of the crime, it’s absolutely captivating. All the elements are there for a provocative passionate picture: there’s Shakespearean drama with the daughter’s betrayal of her mother, the rich businesswoman standing up to the local Italian Mafia, the high-stakes energy and Scorsese-esque vibrancy of a casino floor, and a lecherous playboy who will stop at nothing to get to the top of the social hierarchy, all set against a luxurious backdrop of the glamorous French Riviera of the 1970’s. It’s too bad Téchiné, Cédric Anger and Jean-Charles Le Roux’s very loose re-telling isn’t nearly as gripping. For how predictable the plot points and character arcs are, the most thrilling thing is seeing Deneuve’s fabulously chic, vintage 70’s costumes .
Time and time again, Téchine cuts away from action that would yield the most dramatic punch. The boardroom betrayal scene should have held longer on both Agnès and Renée’s faces, letting that slow burn bleed into viewers’ bodies. Stunting Agnès’ African tribal dancing, which is filled with fearlessness, ferocity, power and expressive freedom, was a huge mistake. We need to let her defiance soak in, and this dance of resistance was the way to do it – and Haenel’s got some killer moves that rival Beyonce’s. Plus, never showing Fratoni as an intimidating force does the material a disservice. Show us – don’t tell us. Mostly all the threat amounts to is a bullet on Renée’s desktop. From what we do see, he’s nothing but sweet and charming to Agnès and Maurice, inviting them to dine with his family, drink fresh lemonade and swim in his pool.
Deneuve gives a commanding performance as a woman on the edge. She’s an icon. The film excels when she’s featured, and gets cold when she disappears in the second act. Simply put, Haenel is a powerhouse talent. I’m so glad she’s being recognized as such in her country, since she is absolutely magnetic. She reigns in her character’s spoiled, bratty behavior and gives her role a much needed vulnerable dimension. She’s also got great chemistry with Canet, who seems perfectly at ease in his weasel-y character’s skin, giving a restrained look at a man filled with rage, greed and narcissism. He’s not necessarily the villain here, nor is he the hero – but it’s a pleasure to see him skip back and forth over that fine line.
IN THE NAME OF MY DAUGHTER (L’HOMME QU’ON AIMAIT TROP) plays ColCoa on April 27. It will be in limited release in Los Angeles (at the Laemmle Royal) and New York on May 15.