In the French film Dheepan, we follow three Tamil refugees as they flee war-torn Sri Lanka and attempt to build a better life in France. The movie has a lot of potential. These three people are traveling as a family, father, mother, child, but in reality they’re strangers to each other who have just met in a refugee camp and taken the identities of a Tamil family that’s died. There’s something really interesting and compelling about that, but the film doesn’t bother to really explore that idea thematically or in any deep way at all. Instead, the film, which is very meandering and kind of plotless for a long stretch, ultimately ends up being about the woman, Yalini, falling in with a local drug dealer, Brahim, and then when violence breaks out, the man, Dheepan, returns to the thing he knows best: killing. There’s something really good here too. This movie has something of the arc of Taxi Driver; Dheepan goes through a lot of humiliation because of poverty and racism and then when he meets a fellow refugee who served with him in the Tamil Tigers, the allure of violence starts to call to him again. But the film whiffs again really. The performances are pretty bad, frankly; these are all non-professional actors and that’s fine, but Jesuthasan, who plays Dheepan, just doesn’t have the depths to give this minimal of a performance. It’s not a minimal performance with a lot going on under the surface; it’s just a performance that seems bored and superficial. This is a problem since the whole arc of the film is built on the tension of Dheepan’s suppressed violence, which we don’t feel at all. The turn at the end of the film, when we see Dheepan go full on guerilla, stalking drug dealers through the halls of a broken down apartment building, wielding a machete, feels totally unmotivated and out of the blue. The fact that it’s still kind of cool really points up just what a wasted opportunity this film is. The idea of a seemingly harmless and quiet janitor having a past of incredible violence is a good one; it’s given even more potential depth by the fact that he’s surrounded by inner city druggies and hoodlums who are mostly posers with little to no actual skill in the area of violence. But again the film doesn’t really get at this. A word for Vincent Rottiers as the lead drug dealer; his part is kind of well-written – he seems to know that he’s a poser and he’s kind of angry at himself continuing the charade and some of his scenes with Yalini actually work pretty well. This film was very disappointing on the whole; it raises some really interesting themes, sets up some fascinating conflicts and plot threads; and then it just kind of pisses it all away with lethargic pacing, lackadaisical acting and a batch of pretty poor performances. A ton of potential, pretty well unmet. And that final scene; boy, is that ridiculous. Yeah, unfortunately, a failure. 2 stars.
tl;dr – Dheepan is a potentially fascinating & rich film with its story of refugees and crime in modern France; unfortunately, it squanders it all with a shallow script and poor performances. 2 stars.