John Travolta owns this movie. It is his film. Without the actor, fully into his evil, sarcastic, snickering mode, From Paris with Love would not work. Travolta’s partner, James Reece (Johnathan Rhys Meyers) is not fun, and the performance lackluster at its best. In fact, the vase Reece must carry around, loaded with cocaine as evidence against drug dealers, has more character.
It is obvious from his first appearance as Charlie Wax that Travolta is out to have a great time. He cusses out a a security guard at the airport, all over a stack of energy drinks. Wax is more than a generic, typical bad ass however. He loves his job as a free-wheeling international spy. He is perfect at what he does, sliding down poles, shooting bad guys and firing off rocket launchers on a freeway with full confidence he will hit the target.
The script, credit going to writers Luc Besson and Adi Hasak, is energetic and loaded with a few twists. What sets itself up as a goofy action buddy spy flick turns into something more, with the characters involved in their own story arcs that reveal themselves gradually. Loaded with increasingly absurd shoot-outs, From Paris with Love never takes itself seriously during its plot developments, but it does offer them, certainly not the expectation with Travolta in high gear.
Director Pierre Morel is no stranger to action films, helming the import District 13 and Liam Neeson effort Taken, both with an aggressive flair and energy that made them work. That same style carries over, even with the snarkier tone at work, to Paris. There are numerous tricks at work here, some unseen. Reece’s unfamiliarity with Wax ensures the audience is surprised like Reece as his partner lets the criminals go. His “different” methods, including using an explosive vest against the enemy, are entirely unique. Paris is anything but predictable.
Wax is eager to teach though, even if he does so by his own methods. Reece answers the door to an apartment, and Wax very clearly states to shoot the person on the other side in the head. Reece answers the door casually instead, and ends up on the receiving end of a severe beating as Wax calmly stands watch at the window. Sure enough, when it matters later, Reece pulls the trigger, establishing a slightly twisted connection and friendship between the two that we are led to believe will last for some time.
Lionsgate delivers a fine AVC encode for From Paris with Love, especially aggressive in terms of contrast. Black levels are established from the opening frames, some sweeping shots of cars moving around the city. The slightly hot contrast is generally under control, adding dimensionality to the frame. In fact, rarely does the film lose its depth.
Pierre Morel goes for a heavy grain film stock, one that the transfer handles admirably. Spikes are somewhat frequent, resulting in some notable noise within the frame. You’ll see it on the walls during Wax’s interrogation at the airport, on the car trunk at 6:10, chroma noise appears as crack begins pouring from the ceiling at 24:22, and just past the hour mark as everyone enters into an apartment for dinner. Generally, the grain structure is simply part of the frame, adding a sense of grit to a harder-edged film that is completely appropriate.
Besides, losing the grain would be a travesty, robbing the film of its exquisite detail. Facial textures are staggering, maintained in both the mid and long range. Nearly every shot of the film exhibits exquisite definition, fully resolving not just pores, but every hair. Clothing reveals extensive stitching with awesome clarity. Establishing shots, such as when Reece and Wax visit the apartment complex to seek out a drug lord produce finely textured grass and concrete on the walls. Shots involving streets or roads deliver perfect detail on the black top.
There are some caveats, namely the warm, orange-ish flesh tones that are so frustrating these days. The digital nature of it all does show through on occasion, namely as Reece and Wax take a short dinner break in a park around 59:30. There that otherwise flawless facial detail suddenly disappears, replaced with a soft, flat look that is distracting considering how textured the rest of the film is. Still, this is a pristine presentation generally, one with plenty of “wow” factors to take into consideration.
Lionsgate delivers their usual expectation, a DTS-HD 7.1 mix that uses every channel during those hectic shoot-outs, but not all that well. Notably, the balance is off, the aggressive soundtrack drowning out the gunfire, especially apparent during the restaurant brawl. The guns lack punch, delivering a crisp high end yet a lackadaisical low. The music offers more bass in comparison.
This track is mixed a bit low, so prepare to bump up the volume a few notches from the norm. This still does no help separate the surrounds, which seem to bleed together as a whole. Gunfire never seems to come from a discrete channel, just from behind the viewer. The lack of directionality is a downer.
The subwoofer does get in on the action, especially as Wax goes solo, dropping bodies from an upper floor leaving Reece to watch as they thud against the stairs (aided by drums). Explosions are frequent, including multiple cars going up in flames. The best one is the final shot before the finale, a beefy, clean explosion free of distortion and extended deep into the LFE. The last gunshot is exaggerated for effect, a powerful jolt that is better than anything that came before it.
There is plenty of ambiance to take note of, especially as the duo visit the Eiffel Tower around 38-minutes in. Tourists chatter on endlessly in the surrounds and stereo channels, a nice enveloping effect. That should not be one of the highlights of an action film though.
A BonusView commentary from director Pierre Morel is well produced, and followed by an equally well done making-of piece that runs 27-minutes. This drops the usual promotional tone for a more honest approach, refreshing to say the least. Spies, Spooks, and Undercover looks at the CIA and their history for 16-minutes, followed by what amounts to a commercial for the International Spy Museum. A trivia game, excellent section on the weapons used by Wax, trailers, and the usual LG-Live support remain.