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Tribeca Review: 'Möbius' Spins Off In Too Many Directions You Won't Want To Follow

The Playlist By Gabe Toro | The Playlist April 24, 2013 at 8:00PM

Who can you trust? It’s the question posed by the international spies at the heart of “Mobius,” all of whom spend their time so deep undercover that they might as well be double-crossing themselves. Of course, as this film proudly, defiantly jumps deep into the pool of international finance trading (which may actually be a thing, or might just be three buzzwords slammed together given the rapid-fire patter of this film), the question audiences will likely be asking is, who can we avoid trusting so we aren’t a part of this whole mess?
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Mobius Jean Dujardin Cecile De France
Who can you trust? It’s the question posed by the international spies at the heart of “Mobius,” all of whom spend their time so deep undercover that they might as well be double-crossing themselves. Of course, as this film proudly, defiantly jumps deep into the pool of international finance trading (which may actually be a thing, or might just be three buzzwords slammed together given the rapid-fire patter of this film), the question audiences will likely be asking is, who can we avoid trusting so we aren’t a part of this whole mess?

Mobius
International trader Alice Redmond (Cecile De France) is the beautiful, brash mover-and-shaker behind a finance company serving as a front for her undercover activities. Which, like most of the plot developments in this film, is a guess: our first moments with Alice show her trading multi-lingual barbs with a friendly Indian intern and a barking French boss, who chides her for making brash investments based on an unseen device she has invented, one that studies and predicts market trends. Assuming this movie is about magicians, makes it seem that much clearer.

Alice is using this skill to navigate into the inner circle of Russian magnate Ivan Rostovsky (Tim Roth), who in turn is attempting to con this pretty genius into his bed. This may be subterfuge of some sort, since not only does Rostovsky sport the most intimidatingly over-prepared security detail, but Roth himself seems to be playing his character like a snake. His head-bobbing runs against the pattern of his accent ducking and weaving in and out of his voice like a punch-drunk pugilist, slouching as if he is wearing a jacket five sizes too small. Perhaps the intention is Rostovsky is so used to this song and dance of courting alluring prospects for his shady business endeavors that the very act of seduction seems like a chore.

Mobius
Watching from afar is Russian secret agent Gregory Liobov (Jean Dujardin), and his first scene, like many others in this film, relies on a sense of misdirection. He chews out an underling for possibly scheming behind his back, the reveal being that he was simply playing a mark, challenging his spy cohorts. Admittedly, this comes across as confusing given Dujardin’s dashing good looks: he plays the scene as if freshly waking from a crushing hangover, in unbuttoned dress shirt and rakish five o’clock shadow. No wonder Clooney got this guy to show up in “The Monuments Men”: one Oscar winner is about to steal the other’s thunder.

The spy activities in this film are so low-key and professional that we don’t even realize that Liobov has broken rank and attempted to seduce Alice. Amusingly, one of the film’s jokes is that he eludes his own team’s shoddy surveillance in order to take her to bed, the two of them so smitten with each other that they easily get over the suspicion that there’s something pretty spy-ish about this good-looking stranger. As their courtship intensifies, so does the surveillance, leading to one preposterous scene when he shares a phone call with her while in the same car as the eyes and ears of the operation.

Mobius

“Mobius” is titled after the Mobius strip that connects in a way to ensure that one path will close upon itself without meeting at the starting point, a heavy-handed metaphor explaining the depth of Gregory’s cover within the dialogue. It’s just one of several on-the-nose exchanges meant to ignore that the action is impossible to follow, but to suggest that you should probably be paying more attention. Suffice to say, no one is in the driver’s seat exactly when they expect, leading to a collection of revelations that cast aside what we thought we knew as either ruse or inessential. It lacks artfulness, stranding our characters in situations that lack moral complexity but seem fueled by arcane plot developments that yield no fruit, other than fascinating anyone in the audience who doesn’t believe in a filmmaker’s ability to deceive.

Were there any thematic ideas beyond this game of spy one-upmanship, it would carry more weight. At least “Mobius” attempts to land on a good foot, sponsoring the illusion that the film all along was about the romance between Gregory and Alice. Dujardin and France are a gorgeous, glamorous couple, and as the film jumps between languages and locations, you stay fixated on the two of them, not because their characters have any exciting personality traits, but because these are a couple of movie-star glamorous performers in beautiful wardrobes frolicking in exotic locales. For as much story-heavy artifice one can pile onto a film, sometimes the pleasures can be enjoyably, nakedly superficial. [C]

This article is related to: Tribeca Film Festival, Jean Dujardin, Cécile De France, Tim Roth, Review, Reviews, Mobius


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