By Eric Kohn | Indiewire July 8, 2011 at 3:39AM
Although released in Europe in 2009, French director Lucas Belvaux's tense kidnapping thriller "Rapt" arrives on these shores with startling immediacy. The story of a wealthy industrialist (Yvann Attal) kidnapped by anonymous thugs for ransom, it emphasizes the media scrutiny of his many affairs that go public during the weeks he spends in captivity. Alienated from the comfort zone that money and power provide, he remains helpless to defend himself, leaving his family caught in the headlights of his misdeeds.
However inadvertently, the movie begs comparison to the recent brouhaha surrounding Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whose own personal affairs have become a matter of public scorn. For DSK, the tables apparently turned when his accuser slipped up; "Rapt" imagines a much darker possibility. For those who revile DSK, "Rapt" provides a twisted kind of escapism: Torture porn ripped from the headlines.
The chairman of a massive French firm and the heir of an equally potent fortune, Stanislas Graff (Attal) abruptly leaves his comfort zone of sleek business suits and fine cigars when a group of masked men nab him off the street and drive him to a shadowy enclosure. In short order, they lop off a finger and demand his relatives pay $50 million that it turns out only he can access.
While the firm's board grapples with police efforts to control the rescue operation, Belvaux's methodical screenplay explores the sudden ripple effects of the events on Stanislas's family, particularly his wife. Just as the affairs of DSK stimulated a discourse on the sexism plaguing modern French society, "Rapt" shows it in action. Outside of Stanislas himself, who loses a finger and spends most of his time wearing handcuffs, nobody bears the brunt of the circumstances more than the woman expected to figuratively stand by his side (Anne Consigny) while tempering the mounting hostility from both their children and the outside world. She faces nearly as difficult a trial as he does.
Progressing with a coldly observational pace, "Rapt" often strains its drawn-out structure, creating a lethargic experience despite essentially taking the form of a Bressonian suspense-thriller. Belvaux shows off with a few expertly directed sequences involving botched rescue attempts, but leaving out the POV of the kidnappers removes an essential part of the equation. Nevertheless, Attal's increasingly weary performance, which finds him growing bearded and thin over the course of a two-month period, enlivens his struggle to survive. Belvaux challenges the tendency to sympathize with the man, placing his struggles at odds with the legacy he left behind. Attal's face exudes ambiguity, making it possible that he may actually sympathize with his captors' capitalistic motives.
The aftermath of that experience takes up the final 20-odd minutes of the movie and forms its most crucial bits. Stanislas is never truly a free man, having faced a public transformation of his image against his own will. He first proposes he play the victim to the press ("kidnapping as redemption," he suggests), but a close confidante echoes an admonishment given to Stanislas' wife earlier in the film: "You never played the part correctly," he's told. (Perhaps, as DSK continues his exile in New York awaiting the outcome of the accusation of sexual assault by a hotel maid, he might want to sneak over to Film Forum and consider the movie's advice.)
"Rapt" concludes with a man alienated by both his public and personal interests, raising the question of whether he's actually survived anything. Notwithstanding the DSK parallel, the movie actually takes the 1978 kidnapping of Baron Edouard-Jean Empain as its basis. However, now that Oscar-winning director Susanne Bier has plans for an English-language remake of "Rapt," she has more than one source to draw from. In a way, the media has already done the work for her.
criticWIRE grade: B+
HOW WILL IT PLAY? Although it's a bit old, "Rapt" has received solid reviews and its DSK connection should bolster its business at Film Forum, but the movie's popularity has already peaked elsewhere.
"Rapt" opens this week at Film Forum.