love-crime-poster02Arriving at UK cinemas primarily to preempt the release of the forthcoming Brian De Palma remake starring Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams is Alain Corneau’s Love Crime. Initially released in its native France over two years ago – and sadly just weeks before Corneau lost his battle with cancer – its UK release will represent for some an entertaining if lightweight slice of European cinema, while for others simply give a taste of what to expect from De Palma in 2013.

Ludivigne Sagnier stars as Isabelle, a young and ambitious businesswoman who works under the ruthless executive Christine (Kristin Scott Thomas). Although at first Isabelle believes their working relationship, while perhaps a little warped, is a mutually beneficial one, it soon becomes clear that is far from the case. Christine delights in toying with her young assistant; first stealing her business ideas, and then later, when threatened, she publicly humiliates Isabelle and undermine both her working and personal relationships.

Sagnier plays downtrodden all too well, and in the opening act superbly gets across the turbulent emotional arc of a character whose confidence is ritually built up and broken down, to the extent that it’s only a matter of time before her tether reaches its end. However, act alongside Kristin Scott Thomas at your peril, for it would take a flawless performance to outshine the ever-magnificent Brit, and Sagnier’s performance isn’t quite that. When Isabelle reaches her emotional breaking point she overdoes it somewhat, whilst opposite her Scott Thomas exudes a perfectly restrained yet delicious maleficence.

When Sagnier does go over the top there’s a danger that Corneau’s thriller could tip into melodrama, but it just about refrains from doing so thanks to the script’s confidence in leaving its character’s more complicated emotions bubbling under the surface. There’s a palpable air of sexual tension shared between Christine and Isabelle that seems destined to eventually come to a head, and in a sense it does when at around the midpoint of the movie the titular love crime is committed. Without giving away what that particular event entails it completely flips the movie on its head. There’s a tonal jolt as the locations, characters and the film’s main impetus all change. What was a psychological thriller drops its psychological elements and becomes just an out and out thriller.

While the second half is no stronger or weaker than the first, what it does confirm are any earlier suspicions that this is no more than a piece of competently executed French popcorn cinema along the lines of 2008’s Anything For Her. Ultimately there can be few complaints when its jigsaw of a plot fits together nicely, and the groundwork put into building strong characters earlier on pays dividends when we’re asked to root for a morally questionable protagonist. There are minor quibbles to be had concerning performances from the supporting cast, and a corporate world which seems to have been constructed after a brief flick through ‘Business For Dummies,’ but otherwise Corneau’s final film shoots for a comfortable middle ground and lands safely within.