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The Big Picture(2010)
Paul Exben is a success story - partner in one of Paris's most exclusive law firms, big salary, big house, glamorous wife and two sons straight out of a Gap catalog. But when he finds out that Sarah, his wife, is cheating on him with Greg Kremer, a local photographer, a rush of blood provokes Paul into a fatal error. Standing over the corpse of his wife's lover, Paul knows that his perfect life has gone for good. But by assuming the dead man's identity and fleeing for an isolated part of former Yugoslavia on the beautiful Adriatic coast, Paul gets another shot at being himself and, at last, seeing the big picture.
For more about The Big Picture and the The Big Picture Blu-ray release, see the The Big Picture Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on March 21, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Romain Duris, Marina Foïs, Niels Arestrup, Catherine Deneuve
Director: Eric Lartigau
» See full cast & crew
The Big Picture Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, March 21, 2013
Forget The Big Picture's bland, English-ified title, which makes it sound like a low-budget rom-com or an Adam Sandler misfire. The original French, L'homme qui voulait vivre sa vie, might be a mouthful, but it translates to the more apt The Man Who Wanted to Live His Life, which suggests a starting point of unfulfillment and existential anxiety. Based on a novel by Douglas Kennedy—which, yes, is called The Big Picture; I maintain it's a lame title—the film masks itself as a stolen identity thriller, but in reality it's a slow-paced character study about identity, specifically, the desire to reinvent oneself completely. If this strikes you as very A Talented Mr. Ripley-esque, it is, but the 1999 Anthony Minghella film is far more satisfying than The Big Picture, which suffers from pacing issues, a lack of real psychological insight, and a last act that wilts before it fully blooms. Still, the film isn't bad—just a little too loose—and leading man Romain Duris' emotionally wracked transformation at least partially smooths over some of the narrative flaws.
Duris, the scruffy charmer of Russian Dolls, plays Paul Exben, a successful and sharply dressed young lawyer whose superficially impressive life is crumbling around him. He has an expensive house in the Parisian suburbs, a gorgeous wife (Marina Foïs), two toe-headed kids, and all the latest and greatest digital photography gear—Paul is a wannabe shutterbug who never went after his real passion—but his marriage is straining, his law partner (Catherine Deneuve) has just announced she's dying of cancer, and he's having a sort of early mid-life identity crisis. All this is aggravated when Paul susses out that his wife—who has asked him for a divorce—is having an affair with their neighbor, Grégoire (Eric Ruf), a middling professional photog who lives off an inheritance while he unsuccessfully queries National Geographic.
Paul has always found Grég arrogant and untalented, but this is partially because the photographer is living the kind of free-spirited, follow-your-bliss life that Paul himself doesn't have the gall to pursue. But he'll soon get his chance. The two get in a tussle over the affair in Grég's backyard, and Paul accidentally stabs him in the neck with a broken bottle. To cover up the crime, Paul disposes of the body, fakes his own death at sea, and cagily assumes Grég's identity, driving out of the country with only a forged passport, a few stacks of cash, and whatever clothes and camera equipment he can shove into a duffel bag.
Don't worry, I haven't spoiled anything; this all takes place in the lengthy first act. While The Big Picture initially seems to posit itself as a running from the law and his own past thriller, director Eric Lartigau (I Do) downplays the suspense—often to the film's detriment— focusing instead on Paul's transformation from materialist yuppie to the sort of shaggy artiste who hangs out down by the docks, taking portraits of dour-looking immigrant longshoreman. Paul relocates to Montenegro, where he rents a hilltop shack, sets up a darkroom, and spends his days bumming around with a medium format camera, one eye through the viewfinder, the other looking warily over his shoulder.
This middle stretch of the film is a long slog; it's mildly interesting to watch Paul slowly reinvent himself, learning to lie and testing his own creative capabilities, but the treatment of his conflict—both the mental aspects and the murderer on the lam practicalities—lacks depth and complexity. We never really get into Paul's head, and we rarely feel the paranoia and danger that we imagine this kind of story should engender.
What's most disappointing is that the film actually sets up what should be a compelling conclusion, with Paul's photography attracting the attention of a curmudgeonly local newspaper editor (Niels Arestrup), who hooks him up with the head of the paper's photo department (Branka Katic), who in turn gets him a solo exhibition at a Serbian art gallery. Soon, he's being courted by agents who are familiar with the real Grég, and it looks as though his secret will disastrously come out. But that's not what happens. Without giving away anything, I'll just say that the ending involves smugglers, an act of pay-it-forward altruism, and the total abandonment of several subplots and lingering questions, leaving us saying really, that's it? Do I need to wait until after the credits to find out what happens next? I'm all for ambiguity, but The Big Picture just seems half- finished.
That said, I can't dismiss the film entirely. It's certainly well made—beautifully shot, with strong acting across the board—and though it leaves a few too many loose ends, it does ask some potent questions about identity, priorities, and the difficulty of doubling back once you've chosen a path in life.
The Big Picture Blu-ray, Video Quality
We can see The Big Picture on Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that's satisfying and faithful to source. Shot on 35mm, the film's (mostly) fine grain structure is entirely intact and unmodified, with no smeary digital noise reduction or obvious edge enhancement. As you'd hope, there's no print damage or compression issues either; everything looks as it ought to. While this isn't the sharpest 35mm image you'll ever see, clarity is generally very strong, revealing the expected level of fine facial and clothing detail in closeups, especially of Romain Duris' scruffy visage. Color is dense and graded with care, often using subtle toning to mirror the mood of each scene. Contrast is almost always balanced nicely, but there are a few scenes where black levels encroach on shadow detail a bit too oppressively. That's a minor complaint, and it's really the only one I can muster. The Big Picture looks true to intent and is a pleasure to watch in high definition.
The Big Picture Blu-ray, Audio Quality
MPI's Blu-ray release includes two audio options, a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track and an uncompressed Linear PCM 2.0 stereo fold- down. You'll definitely want to stick with the multi-channel mix if you've got a capable home theater system; although The Big Picture is a decidedly low-action thriller, the sound design does make good use of the rear speakers for ambience and occasional effects. A crying baby, crashing waves, Paris street sounds, birds and insects—the atmospherics are subtle but immersive. The original music by brothers Evgueni and Sacha Galperine drifts and surges through the soundfield as well, and while low-end output is limited, the overall mix has a solid sense of clarity and presence. Dialogue is balanced perfectly on top of all this, and is always cleanly recorded and easily understood. The disc includes optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles, which appear inside the 2.35:1 frame.
The Big Picture Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The sole extra on the disc is the film's theatrical trailer (HD, 2:12), which is a shame considering the U.K. release had a nearly hour-long making-of documentary and more.
The Big Picture Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Adjust your expectations. The Big Picture isn't the suspenseful stolen-identity thriller it initially appears to be, morphing instead into a quiet, slow-paced character study about transformation and living the life you've always wanted. The film never delivers the climactic confrontation it sets up in the middle act, and the ending—which gives us nothing—borders on infuriating. Nonetheless, The Big Picture is more than the sum of its shortcomings. Romain Duris' performance is riveting when the story itself isn't, and he keeps us locked on the underlying themes when the film spins off into ambiguity. (The movie also gets a bonus point for its small part for the still-gorgeous Catherine Deneuve, who's wonderful in her few scenes here.) MPI's Blu-ray release is solid on the audio/video front, but the lack of bonus features and the all-around so-so-ness of the project makes it hard to give The Big Picture an outright recommendation. Personally, I'd wait for the film to arrive at online streaming/rental outlets.
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The Big Picture Blu-ray, News and Updates
• The Big Picture Blu-ray (Updated) - February 11, 2013
MPI Home Video has revealed that it plans to bring to Blu-ray Eric Lartigau's thriller The Big Picture (2010), starring Romain Duris, Catherine Deneuve, Niels Arestrup, Marina Foïs, and Branka Katic. The release will be available for purchase online and in stores ...
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