2017, Movies

TIFF 2017 Racer and the Jailbird (2017, Michaël R. Roskam)

This is an entertaining, albeit slight, amalgam of the bank heist genre with one of those romances where the two alpha leads, who do risky things in their professional lives, fall in love with each other, but which is pretty much entirely ruined by an absolutely bonkers left turn (well, a series of left turns) into Crazy with a capital C. MASSIVE SPOILERS!

For about 2/3rds of this film, it is a fairly original twist on two genres combined into one: you have the independent woman (race car driver in this case) and the man who wants to tame her (who happens to be a bank robber) and this rote story is elevated by the professions of both leads and the way the whole thing is approached (we see the racing well before we see the bank robbing).

I actually liked this movie much more than I was expecting. The leads were charismatic and did a good job of portraying a sort of head-over-heels romance, the brief racing scenes were very well shot, and the heists, particularly the second heist, were compelling. (That second heist is pretty great, you guys.) There’s also a neat ruse with an undercover cop.

So it is a big shame that the film decided it needed to keep going on and on and on (though it’s only 130 minutes, it felt longer) into it’s many plot twists. Jenn and I debated on our way home when exactly they should have ended the film. We agreed that it was when he was re-captured by the police, approximately 45 minutes before the end of the movie.

It’s hard to fully encapsulate how bit shit crazy this film goes, and how much of a tonal shift is contained with these plot twists. So let me itemize those twists, so you get some idea of the sheer craziness.


  • After the jailbird is arrested (as he should be), the racer decides she wants to get pregnant, which is all well and good
  • The jailbird is let out on leave, despite being in jail for 15 years, in order to help her get pregnant (is this a thing in Belgium???)
  • While on leave, he kicks a dog (which is fine, because it has been long-established by the film that he is afraid of dogs)
  • The people on the street call the cops (would this happen in Toronto?)
  • He runs from the cops (established by the film earlier, at least that he makes poor decisions)
  • After the racer convinces the jailbird to turn himself in, he is arrested by the SWAT team (which feels unlikely) – this is where the film should have concluded
  • The racer’s pregnancy turns into ovarian cancer
  • At some point, we’re told that the jailbird has been making all sorts of escape attempts and getting beating for them, but we don’t see them, we just see the aftermath, meanwhile the cancer is proceeding extraordinarily rapidly (which, to be fair, does happen with ovarian cancer in young women)
  • The cancer-ridden racer (who has quit racing for to have the baby, I forgot to mention) goes to the jailbird’s arms dealer to ask for help, he sends her to the Albanians (those evil Albanians!) who refuse to help her
  • It turns out the Albanians (evil Albanians!) work for the mobster who has hired the racer’s father’s company to do some work for him, so he knows about the racer trying to hire them and he comes to see her
  • The racer hires this mobster to break the jailbird out of jail after she dies and send him to Argentina (which was their dream vacation), as part of the payment, he will keep her Porsche (foreshadowing!); immediately thereafter she gets worse
  • The jailbird is allowed to visit her in the hospital in a coma; not only is he accompanied to the hospital by a SWAT team, but they are wearing masks over their faces! (Where are we? Ireland during the troubles? Are these cops going to get killed by the mob for being in the SWAT team?)
  • The racer dies and jailbird is very upset
  • The (evil!) Albanians break the jailbird out of jail
  • The jailbird doesn’t want to go to Argentina, because love
  • The Albanians punish him by putting him in a dog cage next to some dogs (apparently the racer informed the evil Albanians that jailbird is afraid of dogs, which is useful information when he doesn’t want to go to Argentina)
  • Jailbird escapes the dog cage
  • Jailbird runs outside to find the racer’s Porsche but we’re not sure why it was there, given that the Jailbird was at the Albanian’s place and not the mobster’s
  • Jailbird heads to racer’s grave, presumably to do some kind of Romeo and Juliet thing on her grave
  • FIN

All of that happens in about 40 minutes. Reading it over again, I still can’t quite believe it. It’s like cancer is used because they couldn’t figure out how to end the film. Though a little of it is set up earlier in the film (the fear of dogs, the poor decisions) the vast majority comes as a huge shock, particularly the tonal change from light and entertaining to melodramatic (when he’s running from the cops) and extremely violent (escaping from the Albanians). This part of the film feels like an entirely different movie and we have no idea what anyone was thinking or why nobody called the script into question.

It’s too bad, because we both quite liked the first two-thirds of the film.


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