Thursday, January 19, 2017

A movie that squanders a strong start

For a while The Ardennes plays like a hard-boiled movie that wants to take us into the world of two brothers locked in conflict. With his debut feature, Belgian director Robin Pront begins as if he might want to follow in the footsteps of two other Belgian directors, the estimable Dardenne brothers, filmmakers whose work (The Promise and Rosetta) is known for its uncompromising authenticity. Opening with a robbery that goes wrong, Pront quickly establishes that Kenny (Kevin Janssens) will take the fall for his girlfriend (Veerle Baetens) and his younger brother (Jeroen Perceval). During Kenny's four years in stir, Perceval's Dave and Baetens's Sylvie have become lovers. They're trying their best to go straight, and worry about how they're going to deal with the newly released Kenny, a brute with a volatile temper and a king-sized stock of prejudices. Grit and tension keep the movie percolating until an ending that seems more contrived than anything that preceded it. What has been a credible story makes room for weird characters, grisly violence and bizarre twists that make it seem as if Pront is trying way too hard to give his movie a feeling of pulp novelty. Too bad because Baetens, Perceval and Janssen clearly were capable of more than The Ardennes ultimately delivers. Note: The movie is named for the forest where the Battle of the Bulge was fought because that's where Kenny and Dave wind up finding the story's overstated and violent conclusion.

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