The Movie Waffler New to MUBI - RACER AND THE JAILBIRD | The Movie Waffler


A gangster falls for a race car driver.

Review by Musanna Ahmed

Directed by: Michaël R. Roskam

Starring: Matthias Schoenaerts, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Eric De Staercke, Jean-Benoît Ugeux


The hard-nosed crime thrillers Bullhead and The Drop represented an exciting new force in world cinema - the strong collaboration between filmmaker Michaël R. Roskam and actor Matthias Schoenaerts. Now, the Belgian thespian takes a break from all those costume dramas to reteam with Roskam for yet another film of similar territory. This time the action is in the underworld of Brussels and features Blue is the Warmest Colour breakout Adèle Exarchopoulos as a race car driver. Sadly these presumably satisfying ingredients aren't enough to prevent the filmmaker breaking his winning streak with this melodramatic potboiler.

Racer and the Jailbird review

The only upgrade in this step down from The Drop is Schoenaerts' role as a local thug to a big-time regional gangster (and jailbird, of course) called Gino, also known as Gigi. Opposite him is racer Bibi (played by Exarchopoulos) who instantly catches his eyes and his heart. She's blind to his perilous career and lifestyle until he casually mentions that he's a gangster in a scene reminiscent of the modern classic Get Rich or Die Tryin’ when 50 Cent poetically declares to Joy Bryant, "I'm a gangster," after she asks him what he does for a living.

Schoenaerts and Exarchopoulos are monstrously talented and it's obvious why they'd choose to make this film. Roskam guided his muse to an amazing performance in Bullhead and Exarchopoulos is given an opportunity to have the same success. But the potentially fascinating world they're placed in and the roles they inhabit amount to nothing more than an unoriginal, maudlin and predictable Romeo and Juliet-esque tragedy. The movie is split into two halves named after the characters and the latter, Bibi's chapter, revolves around her being diagnosed by a terminal illness. The structure just makes the parts appear to be more interesting than the actual whole, without realising the possibilities of two subjective viewpoints in such a narrative.

Racer and the Jailbird review

The best moment actually happens smack in the middle. The lovers speak to each other over a pivotal phone call, where their lifestyles and relationship are compromised by notice from the law, and the scene allows the pair of actors to demonstrate their best acting abilities through subtle voice notes, quietly loud emotions and introspective dialogue. It's also the first time we see how much it all means to Bibi, who previously doesn't get to say or do much that suggests she cares for it all, though at the same time doesn't know much about the reality herself.

Racer and the Jailbird review

Being kept in the dark about what your significant other does for a living, having to choose between personal and professional life when you're at a crossroads - these aren't bad themes to explore and some television content especially stands out at handling this well (The Sopranos, Sons of Anarchy, Breaking Bad, etc). Maybe the TV format is what Racer and the Jailbird needs all along, more time to flesh out its characters, their relationship, their careers as drivers and criminals, a stronger narrative, etc, many of which have moments of intrigue but sadly unfulfilled potential to develop. It certainly would help in keeping track of all the players in the game; lots of minor characters threaten to get audiences lost in the mix. Here's a fun idea: take a shot every time you hear the word "enchanté." You may not make it past the first half of the film, but that may be for the best.

Racer and the Jailbird is on MUBI UK Now.