Cinematographer-turned-director Morgan S. Dalibert’s debut feature combines action-packed sequences with the topics of loyalty and betrayal, against the backdrop of a dysfunctional family and the criminal underworld. The director pairs up with actor Alban Lenoir (captured three years ago by his very own lens, in Guillaume Pierret’s Lost Bullet). The two men also penned the film script together. The outcome is a movie with high production values, and the unfulfilled potential to become a 21st century version of Luc Besson’s Léon: The Professional (1994).
The story commences as your average undercover cop thriller. Adam Franco (A. Lenoir) is a true beast of a human being, a field warrior who uses his own muscles and fibres as a lethal weapon. The French government recruit him for a secret mission. His objective is to penetrate an organised crime ring, led by the cruel and ruthless Victor Pastore (Eric Cantona), who has possible links with an African terrorist. Adam is the perfect man for the job: apart from his physical attributes, he has a vast experience as a mole. He promptly infiltrates Pastore’s syndicate, and is soon promoted from driver to bodyguard. His skills impress both his peers and the big boss. Adam becomes acquainted with Pastore’s family, and bonds with his small son Jonathan (Noé Chabbat). He becomes some sort of mentor, perhaps even a father figure, for a child bullied and ostracised at school. That’s when his mission becomes a little more difficult than he anticipated. Adam has to find the balance between protecting Jonathan and carrying out his mission as planned.
There is no shortage of bullets and violence of various sorts in this 122-minute thriller. A little trimming of about 15-20 minutes could have helped. Instead, Dalibert insistently focuses on the fight scenes, notably his forte. There is little time left for the characters to breathe and forge meaningful relationships between themselves. The actors try to deliver their best, but the screenplay doesn’t offer ample opportunities for them to exhibit their full skillset. As a result, the cast are not always directed to their greatest strengths.
Football legend Eric Cantona demonstrates that is well-versed in the craft of acting. His portrayal of the rancorous mob boss is impeccable. Lenoir is auspicious in the role of Adam, however he could have done with a little less action and a little more psychological depth. Overall, AKA lacks narrative focus. The incessant violence does not hit viewers emotionally. The film misses the opportunity to deliver something beautiful and meaningful.
AKA is available for streaming on Netflix. Despite its shortcomings, it quickly became one of the most viewed French films of all time on the platform.