Citizen Kane, Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia, and now, From Paris with Love. If you see only one film this year, this must be it. Directed by Pierre Morel — who gave us only a small glimpse of what was to come with 2008’s Taken — From Paris with Love is a film that is truly more than the sum of its parts, and as such forces us to ask what makes it one of the greatest action films of our generation.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays James Reese, an aide to the U.S. Ambassador to France. Reese works at the embassy by day and runs errands for the C.I.A. by night, but his dream is to one day work as an undercover agent. That wish is fulfilled sooner than he bargains for when he’s assigned to work with Charlie Wax (John Travolta), an Agency operative whose methods are a little unorthodox (to say the least!). While working with Charlie, Reese discovers that the target they’re chasing may be closer to him than he ever imagined.
From Paris with Love taps into the fear and paranoia that is all too common not only in the United States, but in a global community desperately trying to cope with the realities imposed on it by a post-9/11 world. The film is a microcosm for a wide array of issues facing us today, from racial stereotypes to the effect love can have in a person’s life, and these issues are all deftly handled by Morel and the cast he’s assembled.
John Travolta’s performance is an absolute revelation. Not since Wild Hogs have we glimpsed the man’s depth and range as an actor. Charles Wax has it all. He’s tough, yet underneath that carefully constructed exterior we glimpse the man’s heart, his soul. And although Wax’s self-imposed code would prevent him from saying it outright, he yearns to impart something of his knowledge to his young, doe-eyed partner. There are layers here, and in the film’s scant 95 minutes we only scratch the surface of a character that is arguably one of the most dynamic ever written.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers, the Lacey to Travolta’s Cagney, more than holds his own against an actor with close to four decades in front of the camera. Not only has he stepped into the role of James Reese, but also into the role of the viewer. He is us, and takes us along with him as he navigates the uncharted waters of religious extremism and undercover espionage. As he grows, we grow, and by the film’s end we’re all looking at the world through older, wiser eyes. The curtain is pulled back and Reese sees the dangers that lurk behind it, yet he never doubts the powerful change love can wreak in one’s life, because he’s seen the consequences one suffers when they refuse to open themselves to it. A simply stunning performance.
From Paris with Love is nothing less than a cinematic masterpiece. Both beautiful in its execution and frightening in its authenticity, it is a film that will be remembered long after most contemporary films have long faded into memory. Pierre Morel has obviously set himself up for a very long and successful career, and if he ever sees fit to bring these characters back to the big screen, I’ll be there, cheering them on.