Thomas Seyr (Romain Duris) makes his career in real estate, calling himself a broker, but what this means is that he uses strongarm tactics for his unscrupulous friends to make properties available for them to sell on. This can involve anything from releasing sackfulls of rats into previously uninfested apartment blocks to ensuring that other sites are free of squatters or immigrants looking for a place to stay by smashing the places up. Yet Thomas has potential beyond this seedy life, and his late mother, a concert pianist, saw this and encouraged him to take up her profession. Could he do so again?
Writer (with Tonino Benacquista) and director Jacques Audiard's The Beat That My Heart Skipped, or De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté if you were French-speaking, was a remake of American director James Toback's minor cult Fingers, a drama which offered Harvey Keitel one of his best roles. So it was here that Duris also shone as the would be pianist trying to rise above the lowlife he has been drawn into, a winning and natural performance illustrating how because you have creative talent it does not necessarily make you a more likeable or decent person.
Not unless you allow it to, that is, and this is the battle for Thomas' soul which is played out here. The two sides are the masculine, being his father (Niels Arestrup), a small time loan shark, and the feminine, mother we never see, only hear briefly on a cassette tape of her musicianship. Time and again Thomas is forced to give in to the male side, either thanks to his boorish friends bringing him to violence, or from his wayward father who is becoming the unruly child to his son's more responsible influence, something we can take has come from his dead and much-missed wife.
Thomas gets the chance to leave behind this life of crime when he has a chance meeting with his mother's old manager, and he offers to employ him if he goes for an interview. The young man is a little rusty, but cannot resist the lure of the artistic and finds himself a tutor in student Miao Lin (Lin Dan Pham), who although she speaks no French has common ground with him in the field of music. She also represents the feminine, the calming, the emotionally sophisticated as opposed to Thomas' manly impulsiveness that keeps getting him into trouble - we can see he is heading down the same path as dad.
To complicate matters, as if they were not complicated enough, Thomas begins an affair with another improving influence: Aline (Aure Atika), the wife of one of his buddies. Audiard's film is comprised of a series of short and punchy (literally in some cases) scenes which never hang around for long, character-building hearts to heart when a snappy observation will do. While Duris is talented enough to hold these together, we never get the feeling we are ever settling down to get used to him, and as a result we always have the sense of being at a cool distance, watching Thomas and wondering which way he is going to fall. Although we never really find out, as even at the end he seems unable to make up his own mind himself; this lack of conclusion has an authenticity, but may leave you restless. Music by Alexandre Desplat.