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Film / The Axe

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Some people would kill for a job. Literally.

The Axe (Le Couperet in French, US title The Ax) is a 2005 French crime film directed and written by Costa-Gavras. It is based on the novel The Ax by Donald Westlake.

39-year-old French engineer and manager Bruno Davert (José Garcia) has been working at a paper mill for 15 years, improving products and saving money for its shareholders. One day, the company announces that it is forced to "downsize", so 600 employees are laid off and many of their jobs are instead outsourced to a company in Romania. Bruno loses his job, and he is initially confident that he can easily find a place in another company for the same paycheck.

Despite applying everywhere he can, Bruno is still jobless two years later and refuses to get an easier to find but lower-paying job. One day, he finds the perfect opportunity in another paper mill. There's only one problem: several other people are as qualified as he is and looking for the same job. Bruno then sets out to eliminate the competition — physically.

The Axe provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptational Location Change: From a US-set story to France, with short scenes in neighboring Belgium and Germany.
  • Adaptation Name Change: From "Burke Devore" in the novel to "Bruno Davert" in the film, which still sounds close.
  • Adaptational Heroism: Bruno remains disturbed by the murders he's committing throughout his crime spree, while his book counterpart becomes pretty nonchalant about it early on. His book counterpart also displays racist and misogynistic opinions by not even bothering to consider any female or African American targets, dissing them as affirmative action hires who won't seriously challenge him for his coveted job.
  • Adaptational Nationality: The original novel's protagonist is American. The film, being a French adaptation, makes him a Frenchman.
  • The Alcoholic: Raymond Machefer, the manager who ends up being Bruno's last victim. He drinks a lot, which works in Bruno's favor — Bruno uses this to talk his way out of the home-invading situation he found himself in and gain his trust before killing him via intentional gas leak.
  • Black Comedy: There's no denying the film is dark, but the protagonist is also a bumbling man some antics of which are genuinely funny.
  • Central Theme: Costa-Gavras wanted to make a film about the alienation brought by modern corporate policies and human resources management upon employees out of greed, something he sees as harmful social darwinism for societies.
  • Cigar-Fuse Lighting: Unintentional on the part of the guy with the cigarette: Bruno opens the gas valves of Machefer's kitchen while Machefer is sleeping drunk, which results in Machefer killing himself in a gas explosion when lighting a cigarette after waking up.
  • Connect the Deaths: The French and German police are quick to figure out Bruno's victims are all engineers/managers in the paper industry, and come to meet Bruno as a potential target of the killer since his curriculum vitae is similar to that of each of the victims. They don't know that he is the killer, of course.
  • Cool Guns: The main weapon Bruno uses to commit murders is a German Lüger P08, which his World War II veteran father kept as war booty/souvenir, along with ammos.
  • Dad the Veteran: Bruno's deceased father was in the Free French Forces during World War II. The Lüger P08 that he brought home was a war booty he took on a dead German soldier.
  • Destroy the Evidence: After he's told by the police that they have identified the type of gun that's been used for the murders (Lüger P08), Bruno gets rid of the gun by throwing it in a river, enveloped in a bag. A passer-by in a canoe almost manages to grab it, but it ends up sinking.
  • Driven to Suicide: It turns out that job appliant Gerard Hutchinson (Ulrich Tukur) is suicidal and ends up killing himself, which comes in handy for Bruno, who couldn't bring himself to kill him.
  • Frameup: Out of sheer luck for Bruno, his target Gerard Hutchinson commits suicide, and he had another Lüger at his home, which makes the French and German police think that Hutchinson was the Serial Killer and killed himself out of guilt.
  • Karma Houdini: Bruno gets the job at the end, and suffers no comeuppance for the murders he committed. That being said, there's a lady who's looking bizarrely at him during a business meeting at the very end, implying there's a chance Bruno will end up victim of Klingon Promotion in the future.
  • Klingon Promotion: After killing paper mill manager Raymond Machefer, and with no other appliant standing in his way, Bruno eventually gets Machefer's job. But then, during a business meeting a woman looks at him from a distance, hinting at this repeating again with him as the target.
  • Law of Inverse Recoil: Averted. Bruno hurts his shoulder when repeatedly trying to shoot the Lüger one-handed, either when training or when killing his rivals.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: As Bruno states, killing more people doesn't keep going as easy as the first time, and he is struggling more with each murder.
  • Removing the Rival: Bruno sets out to kill other job appliants and a manager so he'll be the only one left to get a much coveted job.
  • Serial Killer: What Bruno becomes, killing one job appliant, then another, then another... It attracts the attention of both the German and French police (since some German men are on his list), of course.
  • Setting Update: From America in The '90s in the novel to France in the 2000s.
  • Shower of Angst: Bruno showers frantically after each murder.
  • Villain Protagonist: Since the protagonist is a Serial Killer.