This small-scale criminal character study from French writer-director Jérémie Guez – adapting Dannie M. Martin’s novel The Dish Washer, with an English language title taken from a Charles Bukowksi poem – ventures into the territory once staked out by Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Samouraï), Walter Hill (The Driver) and Michael Mann (Thief), though the ineffable cool of the buttoned-down, isolated, professional outlaws incarnated by Alain Delon, Ryan O’Neal or James Caan has given way to deep-frozen blankness, with Danish star Roland Møller (seen in A Hijacking, Atomic Blonde and The Commuter) shambling with his head down like the protagonists played by Matthias Schoenaerts and Joaquin Phoenix in Disorder and You Were Never Really Here as an ex-con on parole who doesn’t even want to think about his capacity for violence yet knows that when his undoubted ability to fix things – a leaky roof, a dish-washer – runs dry he’ll have to turn to bludgeoning and shooting people to keep the world straight.
Danny (Møller) – muscular, grey-bearded and tattooed — gets out of a French prison and moves into a cheap motel whose proprietress Laurence (Veerle Baetens) has a husband also serving time. He is fitted with a monitor anklet and given a strict curfew, then determinedly sets about living day to day without bothering anyone or getting involved – conscientiously doing odd jobs around the hotel, and getting a job washing up in a nearby Chinese restaurant whose manager (Lubna Azabel) might even be interested in him. He professes not to understand even simple French, which means people have to talk to him in English, and is completely unforthcoming about what he did to get into prison and what his long-term plans are now he’s got out. The one loose thread in his life is Clara (Lola Le Lann), Laurence’s teenage daughter, who is idly shopping for a replacement father figure … and also has at least one unsuitable friend, a small-time drug dealer always trying to lure her into his car. While Laurence is away, visiting the husband who has told her he plans to move in with a teacher when he gets out of jail, a line is crossed – in a very tactfully shot sequence – and Danny instinctively takes an action which is bound to get him in trouble with both sides of the law, and probably will mean bad news for any or all of the women who have slotted into his minimalist life.
Guez recently scripted a Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle (Lukas) and there’s a sense that this intense, quiet, unostentatious effort is what might happen if you set out to make a Dogme Van Damme picture. It’s almost slight, with information about the characters grudgingly doled out and a plot that’s little more than a situation, but grips and impresses. Møller manages to be menacing and sympathetic without obvious tics, and Guez stages the rare bursts of action in an imaginative, restrained fashion. The two major violent incidents take place in the same car, and in each case the camera stays outside or points away while the worst is happening.