Rated R, 128 minutes
In French with English subtitles
The well-acted, slick but odd French film "Elle" is a solid, tense psychological thriller, at least for its first hour before turning into a baffling, implausible erotic-laced, French episode of "Law & Order."
Michele Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) seems indestructible. Head of a successful video game company, she brings the same ruthless attitude to her love life as to business. Being attacked in her home by an unknown assailant changes Michèle's life forever. When she resolutely tracks the man down, they are both drawn into a curious and thrilling game - a game that may, at any moment, spiral out of control.
Directed by Paul Verhoeven, who has gone down this provocative trail before with 1992's "Basic Instinct" and written by David Birke, based on Philippe Dijan's 2012 novel "Oh," the sluggish thriller "Elle" is admirable for having a strong, albeit flawed, female character, but her decisions and choices may leave you scratching your head, particularly in that unfortunate last act.
"Elle's" best moments are in its tense opening chapters, as the lead character, well-played by acclaimed French actress Huppert in a brave turn as the successful businesswoman with personal issues; she's assaulted in her home and tries to track the assailant herself. The rest of her messy personal life presents some additional challenges: she's having an affair with her best friend's (Anne Consigny) husband (Christian Berkel), is still chummy but jealous of her ex-husband (Charles Berling), has a mother (Judith Magre) who's as sexually adventurous (perhaps more) than she, and a grown, slackerish son (Jonas Bloquet) who can't seem to grow up.
All this leads to an unconventional relationship with a neighbor (Laurent Lafitte), who has some clear issues of his own, and it's here where the movie begins to falter. At this point, "Elle" tries too hard to be provocative and stir the pot, especially when the assailant is revealed very early in the film and Michele continues her relationship with him, without contacting the authorities or moving to another part of town. Even if you have a raunchy or rough side, it's still hard to believe any woman would actually condone rape or assault for even a short period of time.
The ending, given the circumstances, is so contrived and unsurprising that most in the audience could've likely written it themselves given the chance. And then the final scenes, after all the intensity that came before it, seem so chipper and out-of-place they ring with a sense of oddity that seems lost in translation. "Elle" is good for the first half and while it's admirable to try something different, but here, it's different, but not in a good way.