Dir: ThomasVincent. France. 2004. 110mins

The moralconsequences of murder provide the basis for a solid psychological thriller in TheHook. Director-writer Thomas Vincent created a few waves with his grittycharacter piece Karnaval (1999) and this follow-up marks a move towardsmore mainstream fare.

Adapted from aDonald Westlake novel, it is intriguingly set up and executed before headingoff the rails in the final stages. The genre and stellar cast should still makethis a decent, mid-range proposition on its French release, and also in someforeign territories, but mediocre word of mouth can only prove damaging for thefilm, which played in Directors' Fortnight at Cannes.

The film issteeped in the language and traditions of the thriller, which may give it alittle extra sparkle for film buffs. The beginning explicitly evokesHitchcock's Strangers On A Train as best-selling novelist Brice Kantor(Giraudeau) and struggling writer Ben Castelano (Cluzet) meet on a southboundtrain from Paris.

They are old acquaintancesand exchange confidences. Castelano bemoans his inability to attract apublishing deal, while Kantor confesses that an impending divorce settlementhas left him with financial worries and a bad case of writer's block. Perhapsthey could work out a mutually convenient deal to publish Castelano's novelunder Kantor's name.

There is, ofcourse, the further problem that Kantor's wife Lucie (Brochet) would beentitled to half the royalties. Now, if she were out of the picture that mightbe a different story.

Initially, itseems that we may be in the kind of cat and mouse game successfully mined bythe likes of Sleuth and Deathtrap, where the pleasure comes fromsecond-guessing the plot and working out exactly who is the prey and who is thehunter. The Hook takes a very different approach.

The murder itselfis straightforward enough, although why two talented crime writers could notdevise a better plan than a brutal bludgeoning remains the biggest mystery. Butit is the aftermath of the crime that provides the meat of the matter.

Castelano ispragmatic about the affair and the pages of a new novel fly from his typewriterwhile his wife Suzy (Viard) is strangely aroused by the course of events. ButKantor's behaviour grows increasingly erratic.

Similar toFrancois Ozon's The Swimming Pool in the way it lets reality intrudeupon the creative life of a writer, The Hook is not as stylish or quiteas much shallow fun, and it feels like the kind of thing Claude Chabrol mighthave attempted in the 1970s.

Cluzet andGiraudeau are both very good, with the latter immaculately attired and oozingvulgarity as the greedy, conceited author.

Karin Viardrather overplays the hysterical wife who discovers an appetite for violence butthe performances are one of the film's assets along with the bright, cleansingdaylight of the Provence locations.

Still, that verylame ending means The Hook never becomes as gripping or satisfying asyou might have hoped at the opening credits.

Prod cos: Fidelite Production, France 3 Cinema,StudioCanal, Gimages Film
Int'l sales:
OlivierDelbosc, Mark Missonnier
Maxime Sassier,Thomas Vincent from Contract, by Donald Westlake
Prod des:
Pauline Dairou
Krishna Levy
Main cast:
FrancoisCluzet, Karin Viard, Bernard Giraudeau, Anne Brochet, Jacques Spiesser