French thriller Le Serpent is a long gestating adaptation of Get Carter author Ted Lewis' seedy 70s blackmail thriller Plender. A British adaptation was in development for years before this French version finally reached the screen in 2006, but it's good enough to wipe away some of the aftertaste of the Get Carter remake. It's not quite as seedy as the book and loses the flashbacks that drive much of the novel but it translates surprisingly well to the other side of the English Channel and the present day.
Yvan Attal is Vincent, a photographer going through a messy and very hostile custody battle with his rich wife, aggravated by their sharing the same house, who gets set up in what initially appears to be a honeytrap involving a model. When an ill-advised second meeting with her (not the only unlikely plot development dependent on the character's stupidity by any means) ends up very messily, he finds old school friend, private investigator and blackmailer Joseph Plender literally crashing back into his life, disposing of the evidence and worming his way into Vincent's wife's confidence and setting about destroying his life. But it's not money he's after. He doesn't even want what Vincent has - he just wants Vincent to have everything taken away from him...
There are a few bumps - for the sake of moving the plot along quickly it's absurdly easy to find out certain pieces of information about characters, while an early photo-session scene doesn't convince - but for the most part this is a satisfying late-night thriller, largely due to a very convincingly malignant Clovis Cornillac as Plender. While at times it's possible to recognise the schoolboy that Vincent barely tolerated in him, there's a focussed and highly efficient rage behind his blank face and hooded eyes. He's the worst kind of nemesis - one with a legitimate grudge and nothing to lose. By comparison, Attal's increasingly off-balance ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances can't really compete, though he gives it a good try. There's fine support from Simon Abkarian as that only-in-the-movies staple, the loyal and tenacious family lawyer who actually cares about his client and goes out of his way to try to clear up the mess in considerably less than three years at £80 an hour as well as an initially unrecognisable Pierre Richard as one of Plender's earlier victims, though Olga Kurylenko makes little impression as the model in the plot, boding ill for her upcoming role in the new Bond film, Quantum of Solace.
The film doesn't offer that much in the way of surprises, but it's more than efficiently executed - an unlikely but still exciting escape from custody is a standout - even if the end does feel disappointingly overfamiliar. Alongside a good widescreen transfer, Metrodome's DVD offers a fairly reasonable extras package includes a bland 26-minute making of documentary (everybody loved everybody else and had a great time, apparently), UK exclusive interviews with director Eric Barbier, producer Eric Jehelmann and Olga Kurylenko, and the UK trailer, which goes out of its way to hide the film's French origins. However, most of the extras from the French 2-disc edition (deleted scenes, additional interviews, short film La Face Perdue) haven't made it across the Channel to the UK disc.