Michaël R. Roskam’s The Racer and The Jailbird is the kind of film you find yourself desperately wanting to root for, but have to sadly cut your losses and admit defeat when it simply fails to deliver on its ambitious premise. Staring the always watchable Matthias Schoenaerts (The Danish Girl, Disorder, Far from the Madding Crowd) and the constantly brilliant Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue is The Warmest Colour), the film is a gripping action thriller with a sentimental kick, which will either charm its audiences or leave them puzzled by its slightly bizarre plot. Belgian director Roskam manages a coup by assembling a beautifully eclectic cast, but his film sadly falls short of convincing due to its inability to stick to a coherent plot-line.

Schoenaerts is Gino, better known to his friends as Gigi, a former juvenile delinquent who grew up to be a criminal mastermind and gang member. Gino’s allegiances have always been to his childhood friends, but when he meets talented racing driver Bibi (Adèle Exarchopoulos), the two fall head-over-heals with one another, and instantly form a strong and unbreakable bond, making it hard for the usually blasé Gigi to carry on his criminal lifestyle guilt-free. Suspecting that her boyfriend isn’t being completely honest with her, Bibi makes him promise to always be truthful to her no matter what happens. From there on, the story takes a turn for the bizarre, when Gigi is involved in a heist which proves to have devastating consequences on him and the member of his crime gang. Meanwhile, back home Bibi is still dreaming of a happily ever after with a man she knows very little about, but what she doesn’t know yet, is that her world is about to come crashing down around her and that her life will never be the same again.

Roskam offers some rather impressive action set pieces, including Exarchopoulos’ beautifully executed and stylish car racing scenes, and amongst others, a meticulously planned out motorway heist sequence. Having said that, the film is eventually let down by a jarringly meandering screenplay which cannot quite decide what story it wants to tell, and eventually ends up looking confused and unconvincing.

Adèle Exarchopoulos is put through the wringer in a storyline which could be seen as deliberately sadistic towards its female protagonist, but the actress’s ability to convey such poise and vulnerability is what makes up for the films other shortcomings. Looking more James Bond than Bond himself, Schoenaerts oozes cool in his sharp suits and poised delivery. His ability to be menacing one minute, and vulnerable the next is what makes the actor into the wonderfully versatile action star he has become.

On the whole The Racer and The Jailbird is a disappointing production which could have hugely benefitted from a better screenplay and a more thorough editing team. With a confused narrative, the film suffers from its unwillingness to offer its audience what they long for, and in the end, some might find themselves a little disappointed to have sat through a film for over 2 hours without the payoff they came for. Worth catching for the action sequences and the brilliant performances alone, but just don’t expect a coherent story to go with its otherwise faultless direction.

Racer and the Jailbird
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Linda Marric is a senior film critic and the newly appointed Reviews Editor for HeyUGuys. She has written extensively about film and TV over the last decade. After graduating with a degree in Film Studies from King's College London, she has worked in post-production on a number of film projects and other film related roles. She has a huge passion for intelligent Scifi movies and is never put off by the prospect of a romantic comedy. Favourite movie: Brazil.