Total Recall: Jean Reno's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Alex Cross star.
Most American filmgoers didn't know who he was prior to The Professional in 1994, but Jean Reno was already a CÚsar-nominated titan of French cinema at that point -- and his filmography has only broadened in the nearly 20 years since, with comedies, dramas, and big-budget action pictures being added to the list along the way. With Reno making an appearance in this weekend's Alex Cross, we decided now would be the perfect time to take a look back at some of his brightest critical highlights, and you know what that means: It's time for Total Recall!
10. La Rafle
Films inspired by the Jewish Holocaust of World War II are a crowded genre, but writer/director Roselyne Bosch's La Rafle stands out from the pack -- not only is it inspired by a true story, but it features performances from some of the people who lived through the incident referenced in its title, the Rafle du Vel' d'Hiv of 1942. Reliving the travails of French Jews who were arrested with the assistance of policemen working with the Nazis, La Rafle has some weighty stuff to deal with -- and although some critics felt that Bosch played things a little too safe to achieve maximum impact, others were deeply moved. "Bosch is working in unabashed historical epic mode here, balancing individual stories with grand-scale awfulness effectively," argued Tom Long of the Detroit News. "She never swerves for cheap sentiment, she just lays it all out."
After breaking through in The Professional, Reno started fielding offers from Hollywood, and by 1995, American filmgoers were seeing him in films like French Kiss -- as well as Mission: Impossible, which found him playing a member of the secret team assembled by an on-the-run Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) to flush out a rogue agent (Jon Voight). Blending big-budget action set pieces with all the disguises, double-crosses, and cool gadgets that fans of the TV show could hope for, M:I proved a mission impossible not to accept for critics like Roger Ebert, who summed up its appeal succinctly: "Tom Cruise looks cool and holds our attention while doing neat things that we don't quite understand."
8. The Big Blue
France's biggest box-office hit of the 1980s, The Big Blue follows the real-life relationship between a pair of competitive free divers (played by Reno and Jean-Marc Barr) whose childhood friendship fosters a bond that not even their grown-up competition can break. While a number of critics found the movie's feel-good melodrama a little hard to take, audiences certainly responded to it -- and even if the fictionalized exploits cooked up by writer/director Luc Besson didn't really correspond with the true story that inspired them, they resonated with critics like Ian Nathan of Empire, who wrote, "This simple tale of love, friendship and the sea lingers in the mind long after the final credits."
Reno has attracted a lot of attention while playing characters on the wrong side of the law, but for 2000's The Crimson Rivers, he was one of the good guys -- an upstanding cop whose investigation into a brutal murder leads him to a faraway town, and into the path of a separate case being followed by a younger officer (Vincent Cassel). Writer/director Mathieu Kassovitz delved unflinchingly into the story's gory details -- but unlike a fair number of grisly cop thrillers, Rivers didn't neglect to develop a cast of interesting characters to support all the mystery and horror. And the cast was more than up for the challenge, according to critics like Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle, who observed, "Some actors are just automatically the moral locus of every scene they're in. They're the major movie stars, and Reno is one of those."
Action thrillers set in Europe are a dime a dozen, but 1998's Ronin boasts a better pedigree than most: Its script was co-written by David Mamet (working under a pseudonym) and it was helmed by director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate), working with a cast that included Robert De Niro, Stellan Skarsgard, and -- naturally -- Jean Reno. Filled with plenty of car chases, double-crosses, and exotic locales, Ronin drummed up $70 million at the box office while earning positive reviews from critics like Variety's Todd McCarthy, who called it "a pleasurable throwback to the sort of gritty, low-tech international thriller that was a staple of the 1960s."