Mea Culpa Film Critique Essay

Vincent Lindon (“Welcome”) and Gilles Lellouche (“Gibraltar”) star in this latest action-thriller from French director Fred Cavaye.

French action maestro Fred Cavaye delivers another combo punch of kinetic thrills and schlocky storytelling in Mea Culpa, the third in a series of race-against-the-clock suspensers following Point Blank and his debut, For Her (remade Stateside as The Next Three Days). Pretty much one long, credibility-stretching chase from start to finish, but with several impressive set-pieces and plenty of directorial ingenuity, this €20M ($27M) Gaumont-backed shooter should score a sizeable audience for its Feb 5th local release, while Fox has already picked up distribution rights for the U.S.

Starring Vincent Lindon and Gilles Lellouche -- who respectively toplined Cavaye’s two previous efforts -- as a former cop and punch-drunk detective teaming up against a clan of bald, bearded and leather-clad mobsters, the film is your classic good guys vs. bad guys 80’s-style actioner, but with the fights and shootouts turned up several notches while the pace never lets up for all of 90 minutes.

A somewhat impressionistic opening presents several characters and time periods, first introducing us to Simon (Lindon), an armored car driver estranged from his wife, Alice (Nadine Labaki), and son, Theo (Max Baissette de Malglaive), for reasons we’ll learn about later on. Meanwhile, a gang of drug dealers has been on a shooting spree throughout the streets of Toulon, and although Simon’s ex-partner, Franck (Lellouche), is on their tail, they’ve been taking out victims left and right.

All of this is set-up for a first act closer during which Theo -- in a coincidence that strains plausibility to the max -- witnesses the gangsters executing someone in the bathroom of a bull fighting ring. While that scene seems downright dubious, the next one, during which Theo outruns a scooter before his dad steps in to the rescue, is as flawlessly executed as it is both unrealistic and over-the-top, as if Steven Seagal could step into the shot at any moment.

But Cavaye (who co-wrote the script with Guillaume Lemans) has always been less concerned with making things believable than with rendering them fast, gritty and violent, and to that extent, Mea Culpa is probably his best film yet. Moving at breakneck pace from one set-piece to another, we follow Simon and Franck as they double-handedly take on the baddies in a nightclub shootout, a foot chase across several warehouses and ultimately, in a thrilling TGV pursuit that simultaneously brings together three plains of action, trying to one-up The French Connection on a high-speed train.

Working with cinematographer Danny Elsen (Paris Countdown) and regular editor Benjamin Weill (Our Day Will Come), the director painstakingly creates a series of action scenes that are both artful and understandable, never indulging in over-cutting and CGI while introducing sly bits of visual humor, especially in an early parking lot sequence and a latter one set in a hospital that makes hilarious use of an intravenous drip.

Spending much of the film punching, sweating and spitting up blood, Lindon and Lellouche are just fine as a pair of thuggish heroes, although they’re more convincing when they’re on the run than when they slow down to hit a few requisite emotional notes that feel phony from the get-go.

Accompanying the nonstop mayhem is a score by ace composer Cliff Martinez (Drive, Contagion) that thunders along to the movie’s explosive finish line.

Production companies: LGM Cinema, Gaumont, TF1 Films Produciton, KR Productions, Bad Company, Nexus Factory, uMedia

Cast: Vincent Lindon, Gilles Lellouche, Nadie Labaki, Gilles Cohen, Max Baissette de Malglaive

Director: Fred Cavaye

Screenwriters: Fred Cavaye, Guillaume Lemans, based on an original idea by Olivier Marchal

Producers: Cyril Colbeau-Justin, Jean-Baptiste Dupont, Sidonie Dumas

Executive producer: David Giordano

Director of photography: Danny Elsen

Production designer: Philippe Chiffre

Costume designer: Marie-Laure Lasson

Editor: Benjamin Weill

Music: Cliff Martinez

Sales agent: Gaumont

No rating, 90 minutes

Every priest I knew was a kind and good man, and there was no gossip about them among my schoolmates, as there surely might have been. The nuns fill me with nothing but grateful memories. Yet as I was watching this film I heard a name that was familiar to me, and found that chilling. William E. Cousins was our bishop of the Diocese of Peoria from 1952 to 1958, and then after being made Archbishop of Milwaukee, was reportedly part of the cover-up of the first publicly known charge of sexual abuse against an American priest.


There's no reason to believe he was guilty of abuse himself, but this documentary argues that the entire hierarchy was fully aware of abusive priests and followed the church's ironclad global policy of secrecy.

That first public case involved the Rev. Lawrence Murphy, who was a priest at the St. John's School for the Deaf in Wisconsin. Between 1950 and 1974, he abused young students and enlisted older ones to help him. When a group of his victims, now grown, tried to inform the church about what had been done to them, they were ignored, told to forget about it or assured that it would be taken care of.

Three Milwaukee archbishops were informed of Murphy's behavior, and one of them was Cousins. I read in an article by Laurie Goodstein and David Callender in the New York Times: "Arthur Budzinski and Gary Smith, two more victims of Father Murphy, said in an interview last week that they remember seeing Archbishop Cousins yell, and Father Murphy staring at the floor. The deaf men and their advocates were told that Father Murphy, the school's director and top fund-raiser, was too valuable to be let go, so he would be given only administrative duties."

Murphy remained a priest until his death, and continued to receive assignments and have access to children.
What makes his particular case so painful is that his deaf victims found it difficult to communicate their protests. Police and states attorneys said it was the church's business. Lawsuits were dismissed. Many of the parents of the victims couldn't speak American Sign Language, and the deafness of the school's students made it commonplace for Murphy to visit them at night, moving unheard among the boys in their dormitory.


This film (the title is Latin for "my most grievous fault") is by Alex Gibney, the leading documentarian whose credits include "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room." and won an Oscar for "Taxi to the Dark Side" (2007). It is calm and steady, founded largely on the testimony of Murphy's victims, who use ASL and whose words are spoken aloud by actors Ethan Hawke, Chris Cooper and John Slattery. He also talks to lawyers, newspaper reporters, and two Benedictine monks who have been instrumental in running institutions for rehabilitation of abusive priests.

How well that works is open to question. We learn of the Servants of the Paraclete, who treat wayward priests and whose founder once declared "there is no cure for pedophilia." He suggested to the Vatican than an island be purchased to isolate these priests from the general population. This purchase was negated, and many of them remain in service today. Given the grievousness of their sins, one wonders why the church continues to shelter them. Might it not be more appropriate to excommunicate them, and refer them to the attention of the civil authorities?

Note: Now in limited release, "Mea Maxima Culpa" will be shown on HBO in early 2013.

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