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'Greta' review: B-grade thriller with an A-plus Isabelle Huppert

Chloë Grace Moretz stars as Frances McCullen and

Chloë Grace Moretz stars as Frances McCullen and Isabelle Huppert as Greta Hideg in "Greta." Photo Credit: Focus Features/Jonathan Hession

GRETA

PLOT A young woman returns a lost handbag to its owner and soon regrets her decision.

CAST Chloe Grace Moretz, Isabelle Huppert, Maika Monroe

RATED R (brief bloody violence)

LENGTH 1:38

BOTTOM LINE A B-grade thriller with an A-plus Isabelle Huppert.

“A nice, clean, nasty piece of work,” is how Alfred Hitchcock described “Psycho,” at least according to the 2012 biopic that starred Anthony Hopkins as the master director. That might have been exactly what Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game”) was looking for when he chose to direct and co-write “Greta.” This straightforward thriller is no “Psycho,” but it’s a fun little film that happens to feature the great Isabelle Huppert, whose performance might be best described as a total hoot.

The film focuses on Frances McCullen (Chloe Grace Moretz), a recent arrival to New York City. On the subway one evening she discovers an abandoned handbag and brings it home with the intention of returning it to its owner — one Greta Hideg, according to the ID inside. Frances’ rowdy roommate, Erica (Maika Monroe), suggests keeping the cash and tossing the bag, but our heroine chooses the moral option. “This city,” says Erica, “will eat you alive.” 

Greta (Huppert) turns out to be a charming, elegant French woman with a deceased husband, a faraway daughter and only a piano to chase away the silence — all catnip for Frances, who recently lost her mother. Thus begins a tender friendship, at least until Frances discovers that Greta is a con artist and, possibly, a psychopath. When Frances pulls away, Greta clings. And stalks. And that’s just the beginning.

“Greta” has structural problems that give it a slightly halting pace. It tips its hand much too early, revealing the real Greta before we’ve fully savored the suspense. As a result, the movie has trouble filling time and moving the plot forward until its finale. Logistics are another weak point: Greta, clearly past 60, isn't much of a physical threat, and Frances has a tendency not to notice when weapons and tools are within her reach.

Moretz is engaging as the young, tenderhearted Frances; Monroe overdoes it as the wacky friend; and Dublin is pretty unconvincing as Manhattan. The big draw, though, is Huppert (“Elle,” “The Piano Teacher”) an expert at playing cool, classy and crazy. When she finally gets to strut her stuff as Greta, fully unhinged and literally dancing around her victims with joy, the film manages to raise a goosebump or two. For fans of Huppert, and of B-movies that don’t take themselves too seriously, “Greta” might be just the ticket.

A career of strong performances

Is there anything more French than the actress Isabelle Huppert? Her performances, strong as an unfiltered Gitanes, date back to the 1970s but her recent work has been some of her best. Here are four performances worth seeing:

THE PIANO TEACHER (2001) Huppert plays the title role, a repressed woman who begins a kinky relationship with a talented student (Benoît Magimel). The two leads won best actor and actress at Cannes, where the film also won the Grand Prix.  

I HEART HUCKABEES (2004) David O. Russell’s comedy about two existential detectives (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin) featured a perfectly cast Huppert as their nihilistic rival. Critics seemed generally bemused by the movie, but it has become a cult favorite.

AMOUR (2012) Huppert reteamed with director Michael Haneke (“The Piano Teacher”) for this unsparing film about an elderly husband and wife facing their final days. Also starring Huppert’s countryman, the great Jean-Louis Trintignant.

ELLE (2016) An older woman’s reaction to her rape is not what most would expect — even after she discovers the identity of her assailant. Some viewers did not take kindly to Paul Verhoeven’s deliberately provocative film, but nobody could argue with Huppert’s brittle but triumphant performance.

RAFER GUZMAN

 

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