Welcome to New York

For those who paid attention in 2011, there was a pretty significant story involving Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was alleged to have sexually assaulted and attempted to rape a hotel made while in New York. Strauss-Kahn looked to be the leading candidate to be the next President of France, but dropped out of the race after the allegations. The case is interesting, filled with inconsistencies and conspiracies, and you might want to read about it yourself if you want to learn more about it.

I mention this because Welcome to New York is a film inspired by this case, except that the lead, “Devereaux” (Gérard Depardieu), is most certainly guilty. We see him perform this heinous act on the hotel maid — some might say we see too much — and then the rest of the film follows him in jail, in court, and while under house arrest. He is not portrayed as a good person, but more someone who cannot control his own urges, and who has such a safety blanket of power and money that he is incapable of feeling like anything is his responsibility.

This is all interesting for a while. For the first little bit of the movie — after the act, of course — shows very clearly what it’s like for someone to be arrested, jailed, and then bailed out. Some verbal fights happen, particularly with Devereaux’s wife, Simone (Jacqueline Bisset), during which we learn more than we probably want to about his thought process, and then that’s basically the entire movie. It ends on a seemingly premature note.

I think there are going to be a lot of people who have a problem with Welcome to New York. First, it takes the “he’s guilty” side of the real-life case, which hasn’t been proven. But more than that, it has this guy — some might call him a monster, and probably rightly so — as our lead. At times, the film tries to portray him as sympathetic. He’s been enabled by those around him, it says. And that’s going to rub a lot of people the wrong way. He’s also not treated particularly well by those who imprison him, but I don’t think that is to garner him sympathy; that might just be how it happens.

Eventually, the film starts to repeat itself. We hear Devereaux make the same excuses and reenact the same conversations so much that we think he’s trying to convince himself, not us or anyone to whom he’s speaking. Perhaps that’s true. Maybe that’s the point. But for a viewer, there’s no point in having one conversation repeated ad nauseam. It becomes frustrating to watch.

About the only thing, at that point, keeping us glued to the screen, are the two main performances. Gérard Depardieu plays Devereaux so well, so fearlessly, and with such gusto that, honestly, you don’t recognize the actor underneath the character. He’s so good here that even when the film gets dull, he keeps you watching. Jacqueline Bisset, as his spouse, is up to the task of keeping up with Depardieu, although her performance consists primarily of being angry at her husband for ruining everything, which is fair. He did kind of cost himself a chance at the presidency. And it didn’t rub off well on her, either.

Does the film have an agenda? Sure. It doesn’t even begin to think that “Devereaux” is innocent, even if the real-life person had the charges dropped. Its goal is to show us how much of a monster this person is, even if it’s because of psychological imbalance and enablers, not maliciousness. And it works as an incitement of how money can get you away with anything. There’s a funny part of the film where Devereaux’s lawyers tell the judge that he should be treated like any Average Joe, even if later in the film, well, you’ll see.

Welcome to New York is not a pleasant watch. Its goal is to make you see its lead character — based on a real person and a real-world case — as guilty and terrible for the crimes it believes he most certainly did commit. It’s an interesting watch at the beginning, as it shines light into this individual’s life, but eventually the conversations and revelations repeat. It’s only thanks to Gérard Depardieu’s performance that it remains captivating. He’s incredible in the lead role.

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