Here’s something worth thinking about: In 2012 “Cloud Atlas” was released in 2,032 theaters across America. Starring some of the biggest names in Hollywood, it only grossed $27 million domestically ($87 million foreign). Nobody saw it and yet everybody knew about it. The same year, ”The Intouchables” grossed over $10 million in only 194 theaters, domestically. Its foreign tally was over (brace yourself) $416 million – making it the most successful foreign language film in North America that year. Everybody saw it, yet nobody here seemed to know about it. Even when I tell people about it, they think I’m screwing up the name of that Brian DePalma movie. Sadly, foreign language films typically get limited releases in the States, leaving many of us in the dark as to what’s being produced overseas. Well fortunately, there’s a chance to rectify this. On March 5th, “The Intouchables” comes to DVD and Blu-Ray courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment and it’s easy to see why it did so well both critically and commercially without the glamour of big names or a multi-million dollar budget.
Based on a true story, the film revolves around Driss (Omar Sy), an ex-con who has no problems living on welfare and milking the system. In order to keep his benefits, he must show that he’s at least trying to find work. To fulfill this requirement, he half-heartedly applies to be the caretaker of wealthy French quadriplegic, Philippe (Francois Cluzet). Showing no sympathy for this potential employer, Driss demands a letter to prove that he was there and nothing more. Philippe, drawn to the man’s lack of pity towards him decides to offer him the position on a trial basis. Later that day, finding himself evicted, Driss accepts the job and takes up residence in his new boss’ mansion. In time, the two men bond and help each grow. Philippe helps Driss learn to be more responsible and classically educated, while Driss helps Philippe learn to retake control of his life and be more street smart. Having all the fun money can buy, together the unlikely pair learn more about the things it can’t – such as life, love and themselves.
I know that sounds a bit sappy, but it really isn’t. “The Intouchables” is beautifully written, sharp and quite funny. Both Sy and Cluzet are able to play off one another as well as some of the best comediic duos and together, their chemistry is genuine. As a matter of fact, It’s not surprising to learn that Omar Sy is branching out across the pond, having been cast in the next “X-men” film, he’s just so much fun to watch. Francois Cluzet, who’s career spans over 25 years, brings a quiet nobility to the role. He’s able to convey everything from boredom, annoyance, joy and insecurity with his face alone – never even so much as twitching from the neck down. In the hands of less capable, or even less compatible actors, this film could’ve easily been a French language knock-off of “Driving Miss Daisy”.
Instead, writer/directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano bring a fresh take to the “friends from two different worlds” movie and give you characters worth caring about. The opulence of Philippe’s world is both mundane when seen through his eyes and exciting when we see it through the perspective of Driss. Our lives are what we make of it and the filmmakers are able to drive the point home through these two men – and through a magnificent soundtrack. Using American dance music from the 70′s and 80′s (Earth, Wind and Fire, par example) as Driss’ music of choice and classical (Bach, Vivaldi) for Philippe, it’s fun to hear Nina Simone performing “Feeling Good” as both characters finally balance each other out. And isn’t that what life is all about? Feeling good?
The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 French language soundtrack with English subtitles and is presented in an anamorphic widescreen 1.85 aspect ratio. As always, Sony comes through with picture quality that is surprisingly clean and clear for standard definition. That said, extras are lacking on the disc. There are five deleted scenes to choose from, but not even a trailer for “The Intouchables”. There are trailers for other films, however. If you’re going to put sneak previews on a DVD, why not include one for the feature presentation and push it as another extra?
Overall, I give “The Intouchables” 3.5 of 4 angels. The film is a lot of fun for something that could’ve easily been a real downer. I mean, who would think 112 minutes with a paralyzed millionaire and an ex-con would yield so many laughs? Apparently all of Europe. Now it’s your turn to smile.