Credit: Reda Laaroussi/Netflix
by Matt Lynch Featured Film Streaming Scene

The Wages of Fear — Julien Leclercq

April 3, 2024

Georges Arnaud’s novel The Wages of Fear has, of course, been adapted for the screen twice: Henri-Georges Clouzot directed his film of the same title in 1953, and William Friedkin made his equally formidable Sorcerer in 1977. Given those dual successes, there was plenty of reason to believe that burgeoning French low-budget action maestro Julien Leclerq’s latest version, once again titled The Wages of Fear, had a fighting chance, despite what would appear to be a major case of redundancy. Alas.

Leclerq relocates the action of the story from Latin America to an unnamed Middle Eastern country locked in political turmoil. Fred (Franck Gastambide) and his brother Alex (Alban Lenoir), a demolitions expert, have become nebulously embroiled in a recent coup and seem to be planning some sort of last-minute heist on their way out of the country. Alex winds up in jail even though the whole thing was Fred’s idea — whoops. Some time later, the local oil concern blows a well, setting off a massive fire that threatens a nearby refugee camp. Fred and Alex, along with Fred’s aid-worker girlfriend Clara (Ana Girardot) and her coworker Djibiril (Bakary Diombera), are hired by the oil company to drive two trucks full of nitroglycerin to the well site and extinguish the fire by blowing it out with the explosives. And since this new version of the tale takes place in a combat zone, they’re dragging along an escort of corporate mercenaries too.

That minor shift of detail sort of sums up what doesn’t work about this The Wages of Fear. Rather than a slow ratcheting up of tension between desperate people in a desperate situation, almost right away we’re treated to sweaty hand-to-hand fights and numerous car chases and shootouts. Every time you see bullets ricochet right past the deadly unstable nitro, take a drink. The film flat out looks dull too, all digital brown rocks and drab sand. And while Leclerq’s terse style and impressive use of geography have worked well in his previous more character-based thriller dramas,  this time around it’s all action with no momentum. Precarious crossings of dangerous terrain are covered in a few minutes; a relatively protracted sequence involving blowing up a boulder blocking our characters’ path ends up looking like just another crummy CGI explosion. It even all wraps up with a double-cross that would have been entirely predictable if it wasn’t so illogically stupid. Why anyone thought The Wages of Fear needed a bog-standard DTV version, we may never know.

DIRECTOR: Julien Leclercq;  CAST: Frankc Gastambide, Alban Lenoir, Ana Giradot, Sofiane Zermani;  DISTRIBUTOR: Netflix;  STREAMING: March 29;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 44 min.