Through his career, François Cluzet has been chased by a resemblance to Dustin Hoffman. In a restrained French way, he might be as talented. I would rather view again his quadriplegic Philippe in The Intouchables than Hoffman’s gimmicky, autistic Raymond of Rain Man. Based upon real characters, The Intouchables is both credible and contrived.
Philippe is a wealthy Parisian widower, paralyzed below the neck by an accident. He has a swank home, a terrific car, and good taste, but his caregivers and routines bore him. Then he hires Driss (Omar Sy), very black and very bright and jammed with attitude. Up from hard-luck Senegal, Driss doesn’t feel pity for the rich man. His brashness tickles Philippe’s sly irony, and the inflections on Cluzet’s face become the story’s sweet spot.
The film had two directors (Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano) and feels a little split. The core friendship is often funny and nuanced, but other relationships seem expendable filler. The racial contrast is blatant. What is more clichéd “white” than a starchy, then paralyzed man who loves chamber music and tucks his feelings into very literary letters? Or more “black” than a lippy street stud who cockades his cool?
The picture is like a less sentimental Driving Miss Daisy (Daisy’s paralysis is racism, before a nice black man liberates her). Cluzet and Sy are touching and entertaining. A moustache joke near the end is, all by itself, reason to see The Intouchables. Maybe Hoffman can star in the American remake.