Serving a lengthy prison sentence for bank robbery, Frank Adrien (Albert Dupontel) has maintained the secret behind the whereabouts of his illicit earnings. Unwilling to trust his wife or former partner in crime, Frank ultimately confides in shadowy cellmate Jean-Louis Maurel (Stéphane Debac). Yet once Maurel is released, Frank is made aware of the danger he has unwittingly put his family in, and is forced to escape.
Initially struggling to wade through the quagmire of crime film clichés that it employs, Valette’s film undoubtedly improves once it throws off the trappings of the jail-house setting. Under the shadow of the barred windows, characters do little but conform to ‘gritty’ archetypes. Depicting increasingly detestable individuals assaulting each other, the preliminary scenes of The Prey do little to incite pathos and leave those watching on feeling merely indifferent. Sadly, such an issue confounds Vallete at every turn. As more characters are poured into the maelstrom, very few emerge as rounded, interesting individuals and the ultimate majority merge into a mass of unknowable faces. Whereas a film such as Heat (1995) used prolonged character development to make a half-hour gun battle painfully tense, The Prey omits such detail, creating frequently underwhelming set pieces.
The villainous Debac is clearly the highlight of Valette’s film and creates a deeply unsettling character who dominates the narrative’s latter sections. In contrast, Dupontel, try as he might, can never invest any real vulnerability into Frank, who bounces from mishap to fist fight with growing invincibility. As the pace picks up, Valette’s film improves and the final chase sequences hold interesting flourishes. Once Valette fully embraces the insanity, the film becomes a fairly entertaining action blockbuster. Yet such excitement sits uncomfortably next to the realistic pretentions of The Prey’s opening sections. Alongside this, if you can’t guess the final line once Frank’s mute daughter is introduced into the mix, then you just aren’t trying.