The Expatriate

As previously noted, the places I’ve lived in haven’t tended to be the kind of places that feature as glamourous locations in big budget movies. Imagine my excitement (well, mild curiosity, perhaps) to discover that Brussels had recently been used as the location for an American action thriller, The Expatriate. Now Brussels has been used plenty of times for local productions, but this is the first time (as far as I can tell) a fairly high profile Hollywood shoot has used my adopted home, and in such a prominent fashion.

I wasn’t initially sure whether I was going to bother seeing it, as it had received only a few, pretty lukewarm reviews, and my only real interest in seeing it was the location. The last film I’d seen for solely that reason was Genova, and that didn’t turn out too well, so I wasn’t particularly excited about paying to sit there just so that I could point at the background and say “Look, there’s the Koekelberg Basilica, for a fraction of a second, blurred by the frantic camerawork!” But we ended up going along anyway, also because there isn’t much else on at the cinema at the moment.

And? Well, it was ok. As a film, it was a functional thriller. Not startlingly original, the villain is one-dimensional, it’s a little hypocritical in the usual way of American movies which try to convince you that killing people is awful, unless the hero does it in which case it’s ok for him to beat to a pulp/blow up anyone who gets in his way. But it moves quickly and efficiently through its set pieces, and the performances by Aaron Eckhart and Liana Liberato as his daughter are just good enough to keep you involved.

And as a Belgian big screen experience? Well you see quite a lot of both Brussels and Antwerp, so there are plenty of location-spotting opportunities. It’s normal for films to cheat locations and geography, but a couple of examples jumped out at me here. In one scene we see what’s very obviously a Brussels tram rolling down a recognisable Brussels street, but the scene is supposed to be taking place in Antwerp. A scene set on the steps of a courthouse was actually filmed on the steps of the stock exchange.

On the plus side the film hints (albeit only briefly) at the difficulties of the expat life, not only for wealthy Americans but also for immigrants from poorer countries. It was heartening to see the Arabic community portrayed in such a positive way when they could easily have been either villains or victims. I know that sounds like faint praise (“Congratulations on not being racist!”), but it’s still not that common in this kind of film.

But worst of all? During most of the scenes set in Antwerp, when the protagonist talks to his colleagues in the office, he talks (and they respond) in French. Did no one bother to explain to the writer that Antwerp is in Flanders?