“Chopsticks” without chopsticks

War of His Worlds

One life. One irreversible journey. If only we can split in two or go back in time, then our lives would be so full of chances and maybe less of regrets. In “The Beat That My Heart Skipped,” twenty-something Thomas (Romain Duris) attempts to satisfy two worlds. When first introduced, he is a real estate thug, working under the influence of his seedy father (Niels Arestrup). When the business calls for intimidation, whether it be kicking out tenants or forcing debts to be paid, Thomas is the man to call.

When he meets the manager of his late mother (she was a concert pianist), Thomas is tempted by an opportunity outside his violent existence. The manager, who recalls Thomas once studying piano, wants him to audition. The young thug responds with excitement even if he’s years behind of serious practice. With this problem, he seeks the help a Chinese virtuoso (Linh-Dan Pham), who speaks no French, but is fluent in music. Slowly, Thomas begins to loosen his fingers and possibly make beautiful music out of his life’s aggravations.

I want to call this a very “French” film, but I’m stomped as to what makes films “French.” All I know is that its kind would be a rare Hollywood product (even after the fact that this is a remake of an American film). “The Beat…” is a character-driven movie, which dawdles in the pace of a meditative drama. But it’s not exactly soporific since it jolts with violence, romance, and suspense. To me, what makes it tolerable is the film’s lead performance. Romain Duris, who played the naïve protagonist in the enjoyable “L’Auberge Espagnole,” has developed into one package of an actor. In addition to his good looks, he’s also endowed with notable acting chops. In the film alone, he’s capable of oozing sexuality, menacing brutality, subtle frustrations, nervous breakdowns, and childlike optimism. He’s an actor to watch.

In terms of story, sometimes the plot plateaus and there are stuff that feels trivial. Eventually it gets interesting when both worlds pull Thomas in opposite directions. Is he in a position to choose one over the other? One financially fills his pocket. The other sustains his soul. And what will Thomas do when he feels like he’s failing at both worlds? Again, I pause at suggesting the ending to be “French.” All I know is that I was pleasantly content although my “American” I-want-to-know-everything cravings weren’t.

Grade: B+

Romain Duris, Niels Arestrup, Linh-Dan Pham, Aure Atika, Emmanuelle Devos, Jonathan Zaccaï
Screenplay by
Jacques Audiard and Tonino Benacquista
Based on the film “Fingers” by
James Toback
Directed by
Jacques Audiard
The film is not rated.