LOST BULLET (original title: BALLE PERDUE) is an outstanding 2020 French action movie that’s available on Netflix, and it turns out it’s one of my favorites of last year. It’s a car chase movie and a one-man-on-the-run-trying-to-prove-his-innocence thriller and there’s a little bit of fighting and both the action direction and the storytelling are beautifully clean. It feels raw and grounded, but in a good way, not in that joy-sucking sort of way where realism is more important than entertainment. Man, I loved this one.
It opens with Lino (Alban Lenoir, an actor/writer/action coordinator/second unit director on a show called Hero Corp), a mechanic, preparing a souped up engine on a small car and nervously strapping himself in, steeling himself for a crash. He picks up his Eddie-Furlong-looking little brother Quentin (Rod Paradot, STANDING TALL) and hands him a helmet, and we realize he’s planning to ram through the side of a jewelry store. Quentin tries to talk him out of it, thinking there’s no way they’ll make it through that wall in this little thing. But Quentin has a huge debt of some kind and Lino thinks this is the only way to save his ass.
It turns out Lino pimped that ride so well that it plows right through the wall into the store. And then through the back wall, and another couple walls, and out the back. From one side of the the building to the other, like a tunnel. But the car gets stuck and the cops are coming and he tells Quentin to run.
So Lino is in prison. And these two higher-up type cops come in, Charas (Ramzy Bedia, director/writer/star of HIBOU) and Moss (Pascale Arbillot, MY DOG STUPID). Charas is trying to tell Moss about how this is the guy who got this little car through four walls – he seems to think it’s the greatest thing ever – but she’s not amused. Still, she allows him to recruit Lino to build cars for an elite “go-fast” task force.
He does a good job. We see a little bit of the squad in action, high speed tactical driving in these “go fast” cars with bars on the front for ramming. This fantasy of giving an outlaw car guy the resources and permission to create the badass cars of his dreams is one of many little things that reminds me of 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS and the rest of that series. It’s done in a totally different, more down-to-earth way, but never at the expense of thrills. Crazy shit can happen, but you feel like he’s just barely pulling it off. The cars don’t feel super-powered; more like they’re being pushed to the limit, and liable to fall to pieces at any moment.
To Lino’s surprise, Charas gets him an early release. He’ll have to continue working for the police to get it, but he seems moved. Charas genuinely believes in second chances, and thinks he deserves one. The only catch is an honest one, not a trick: he needs to help go after some guys that his brother Quentin seems to be working for now. But Charas promises not to bust the kid.
Much of the beauty of the movie is the economical storytelling. All of what I’ve described happens early in the movie, quickly skimming over a bunch of time. But you feel a strong bond between the criminal and the cop. Lino is clearly so excited and proud to see the garage full of yellow cars based on his work, and Charas makes a point of keeping it a surprise, to see his reaction.
The hitch is when (SPOILER COMING) they raid an illegal garage and suddenly a member of their own team, Areski (Nicolas Duvauchelle, TROUBLE EVERY DAY, INSIDE), shoots and kills Charas. Man, I liked that guy! The nicest cop ever, so he has to get killed by another cop. And Areski is a good villain because he wears this jacket that might look kind of cool on another guy but because you already hate him you look at his jacket and you think look at this fucking guy with his fucking jacket, fuck this guy.
So, Lino has been set up by cops, and most of the cops who aren’t in on it don’t know enough about his team’s activities to trust him. Lino tries to run, but gets arrested. He asks them to call Julia (Stefi Celma, HAPPY TIMES), the one cop he trusts. Instead Areski comes into the interrogation room, turns off the camera, and basically tells him he’s fucked. He had Charas’ car burned and Lino has his blood on him and no one will believe him.
After he escapes (a little more on that later) he finds out his brother tricked them into burning the wrong car, so it’s a race to find the one with Areski’s bullet in it and get it to the few cops that might believe him before the many cops who don’t believe him catch up with him, or especially before the cops who framed him can kill him. It will of course culminate in a car chase with him driving the fucking crime scene to the police and yes, he is able to do some quickie customization to that thing, with spectacular results.
Now, there’s no information to tell us that Lino is, like, a trained fighter or anything, but he can fight and he is tenacious. His escape from the police station is an A+ sequence that I think will make many happy because of it’s unusual insistence on avoiding the fight movie convention of allowing him to take on each opponent one at a time. Personally I don’t have a problem with that, but I know people like to bring it up, so I’m happy to report how genuinely thrilling and cool it is to see Lino being piled on by four or five cops as he battles through different rooms and halls and just does not give up. There’s alot of punching and bashing and alot of wrestling and lifting people and slamming them into walls and desks and lockers and there’s this fierce woman officer (I couldn’t figure out her name from the credits) who’s light enough that he keeps knocking her off of him and then actually tosses her onto a desk. You feel bad for her!
It’s this intense struggle, this tug of war to pull his body past these people, out of the building, at one point his finger tips literally gripping the stairs to the entrance, trying to pull himself down one step at a time. I didn’t know if there would be fights in this at all, and here is a truly excellent one, so original, and yet so natural as to seem obvious.
(Stunt coordinators: Emmanuel Lanzi [stuntman in BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF, KISS OF THE DRAGON, DISTRICT B13, TAKEN] and Jean-Claude Lagniez [car stunt coordinator for THE BOUNCER and 22 BULLETS, stunt driving double for A VIEW TO A KILL, so I bet he drove that half car – something that is arguably referenced here!])
Another piece of this movie’s greatness is how much characterization they get out of simple, non-verbal moments. I feel like we follow the saga of Moss, the one cop who seems like she might figure out that Lino is innocent, mostly through facial expressions. And I love when that female officer I mentioned getting thrown around in the police station fight shows up later, climbing onto a car at a roadblock and taking aim as Lino approaches. We see scabs on her face, are reminded of her getting smacked around, and completely understand why she’s so gung ho. She may have no idea she’s with the bad guys.
And there’s Julia – Lino finds her and tries to tell her what happened. We realize that they’re more than just teammates when he hugs her. That’s also when we learn she knows some jiu jitsu. It’s so exciting when she starts to believe him, helps him, takes a fall for him. And then the most exciting when Moss lets her go and she hops in a car and we remember oh shit, she was on the team too. We know she can drive. It’s on.
This is maybe not crucial information, but I would also like to note that this bad guy muscle character Kad (Judoka and stuntman Arthur Aspaturian) kinda looks like what would happen if technology allowed Daniel Craig to have a child with Vin Diesel.
I’ve already said too much, but I will end with one final SPOILER: Lino is kind of a weathered-looking dude, but not an obvious action hero type. Yet, over the course of this movie, he basically runs a marathon of proving an overwhelming toughness. At the end, obviously, there’s no question about it. And yet it ends with him crying. There’s a beautiful reveal tying the specific context of the crying to the center of the movie’s action, allowing for this lean and speedy, kick ass action movie to counterintuitively end on a moment of effective emotion. And at the same time there’s a wordless exchange between our badass heroes so that we go out on simultaneous grieving and triumph. It’s straight up masterful.
The director is named Guillaume Pierret. He co-wrote it with star Lenoir and Kamel Guemra. This is Pierret’s first feature. Otherwise IMDb only lists one 2012 short and a few episodes of the sketch comedy shows Golden Moustache and Le Golden Show in 2013.
Fred Topel was the first to tell me about LOST BULLET, so thank you, Fred, and everyone else who recommended it after he did. I am excited to pass along their recommendation to anyone else who hasn’t received it. Check it out.
P.S. Here’s the Guillaume Pierret short film Matriarche.
He has some older, lower budget ones on Youtube that aren’t listed on IMDb. Clearly he’s been practicing at this action stuff for a long time.