With A Friend Like Harry

To some degree, we’ve all had people like Harry in our lives. They hover around the peripheral of our lives, barely noticeable. They always seem to know much more about us than we do them, and when we innocently invite them into our lives, they not only grab the chance, they eventually begin to take over. You try to be nice, but their obsessive behavior denies you the opportunity.


with a friend like harryThat’s the problem facing family man Michel (Laurent Lucas), who has just bumped into a supposedly old high school friend named Harry (Sergi Lopez). Michel can’t seem to remember anything about Harry, but Harry knows enough about Michel to make him either a best friend or a stalker. The beauty of director Dominik Moll’s new thriller “With a Friend Like Harry” (Harry un Ami Qui Vous Veut du Bien) is that we’re never sure.

Is he really an old high school friend (he claims they even shared the same girlfriend), or does Harry have something more sinister on his mind? The sinister screenplay by Gilles Marchand and Moll takes it time arriving at a conclusion. The filmmakers are in no hurry because they know the ride will be worth it. They want us to squirm. They keep us in the dark as much as Michel, who doesn’t know what to make of his new houseguest.

We have our suspicions, yet the screenplay is so well crafted and executed by director Moll that we get lost in the suspenseful maze of lies and deception.

When we first meet Michel, he’s obviously in need of a friend. He’s trapped with his family inside a broken down car with no air conditioning, on a long road trip to a summer vacation home. Michel bumps into Harry at a rest stop, but doesn’t remember him. Harry not only convinces Michel that they knew each other, but gets himself invited to the family’s vacation cabin for the night.

With his girlfriend Plum (Sophie Guillemin) in tow, Harry follows Michel to the summer cabin, which isn’t in much better shape than the family car. Claiming to have money, Harry generously buys the family a new vehicle. Of course it’s an inappropriate gift, but is just one of Harry’s methods of worming his way into Michel’s life.

At least Michel needs a new vehicle. What he doesn’t need is a newly redecorated upstairs bathroom at the summer cabin, a surprise gift from Michel’s parents. How do you tell someone that their gift is not only unwanted, but ugly to boot? In Michel’s mind, it would be much easier to get rid of them than admit his true feelings. Be careful what you wish for.

Harry, who can still recite a poem Michel wrote in high school, encourages him to pursue his dream of writing. To everyone else, Michel is a doormat. To Harry, he’s hope, and Harry will do what ever it takes to keep hope alive. So when the everyday annoyances in Michel’s life start to disappear, we know that Harry is behind it.

Or is he? Moll and co-writer Marchand always keep us guessing. Is Harry acting out some twisted “Stranger on a Train” scenario with his old friend? Except for the opportunity to be close to Michel, does Harry expect anything else in exchange for his encouragement and gifts? Or is Harry just needy and opportunistic?

Sergi Lopez, a wonderful French actor who usually plays nice guys, explores his dark side as Harry. It’s a creepy, calculated performance, the acting equivalent of a slow burn. As an audience, we know from experience that people like Harry are bad news. Lopez brilliantly shades Harry so well that we, like Michel, are willing to give him the benefit of a doubt. Even when we suspect the worst from Harry, Lopez refuses to make him a villain.

There’s real transformation in Laurent Lucas’ Michel, who goes from a man on the edge with no purpose, to a man on the edge who knows exactly what he wants. It’s a delicate performance, and Lucas walks a tightrope of emotion and frayed nerves without once losing his step. Towards the end of the film, when Michel struggles with his dilemma, Lucas really comes alive. Look in his eyes and you can see turmoil and inner conflict, an unsettling mix that makes him almost as dangerous as Harry.

While American filmmakers continue to explore their obsession with big-scale thrillers, it’s comforting to know that countries like France understand the difference between thrills and suspense. Director Moll doesn’t want to thrill us. He wants to keep us in a state of suspense. He does. He doesn’t need car chases and explosions. He relies on the actors and script to provide the fireworks, and both ignite the screen.

Even though the supporting characters border on types (the shrewish wife, the bratty kids, the meddling parents) the director never allows them to become ordinary. He evokes memorable performances from the entire cast, making sure that everyone is on the same page.

The script is filled with delicious little moments that were common place in Hitchcock films, and their presence here is no coincidence. “With a Friend Like Harry” is indeed a modern day equivalent of the master’s best suspense films like “Psycho” and “Frenzy.” It’s obvious the writers find delight in the macabre plot devices, like suggesting that Michel is really better off without certain influences in his life. Really wicked stuff.

Competently photographed, scored and edited, “With a Friend Like Harry” is a perfect package, waiting to be unwrapped by audiences hungry for a suspense film that should give your goose bumps goose bumps.

FRIEND INDEEDWith A Friend Like Harry, Who Needs Enemies

WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY

Laurent Lucas, Sergi Lopez, Mathilde Seigner, Sophie Guillemin, Liliane Rovere, Dominique Rozan. Directed by Dominik Moll. Rated R. 117 Minutes.

LARSEN RATING: $7.00



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