Le Piège Américain

By Chris Bumbray on June 26, 2008

The life of Quebec mobster Lucien Rivard is getting the big screen treatment in “Le Piège Américain” (THE AMERICAN TRAP), from local director Charles Binamé- who last directed a film about another Quebecois icon, “Maurice Richard.”  Suffice to say, Rivard is a much more controversial figure.

Rivard’s life truly was stranger than fiction, and it’s amazing that no one thought to make a film out of his life any sooner. In the late fifties, Rivard operated casinos in Cuba, under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. In association with the infamous Bonnano crime family, Rivard ran guns and drugs out of the country, and paid Batista $20,000 a week in bribes. Once Castro took over following the revolution, Rivard was forced to flee . He ended up back in Canada, where he became the biggest heroin importer in the country. Eventually, he got indicted by a U.S Federal Grand Jury for drug trafficking, and in 1964 he ended up in Bordeaux prison awaiting extradition to the U.S (his extradition order was signed personally by Robert Kennedy). His stay at Bordeaux did not last long, and he escaped in March 1965, before being recaptured in May.  His escape touched off a media firestorm, and allegations of bribery regarding the Canadian government led to an investigation- which resulted in the resignation of Canadian attorney general Guy Favreau.  Rivard was extradited to the U.S, and he spent the next decade in a prison in Houston, before being paroled in 1975. He returned to Montreal, and eventually died on Feb 3rd, 2002 at the ripe old age of 86.

“Le Piège Américain” takes quite a few liberties with Rivard’s life. The film shows Rivard selling guns to Che Guevara, and running arms to Indonesia while accompanied by a CIA operative, who in the film is named Maurice Bishop, and is played by Anglo-Canadian actor Colm Feore. The film also alleges that Rivard might have somehow had connections to the JFK assassination.

Overall, “Le Piège Américain” is a fairly standard local production. The filmmakers have to be given credit for tackling such an ambitious project, but in the end it seems that they did not have the resources to do this incredible story justice.

The film is pretty much all talk no action, as we rarely see characters do anything but carrying on long conversations about things they’re going to do. One notable example is the Bordeaux prison escape scene. The actual escape was fairly elaborate and involved using hoses to scale a wall, and using a wooden gun painted with shoe polish to subdue guards and hijack a car. In the film, we briefly get Rivard talking about the escape, and then we see him duck behind a few corners. Then all of a sudden he’s on the lam! It would have been nice if the filmmakers had actually shown his amazing escape or his recapture in Chateauguay, where the police supposedly walked in on Rivard lounging around in a bathrobe.

Regarding the alleged ties with the Kennedy assassination, it seems that the filmmakers might have gotten a little inspiration from the book “American Tabloid” by James Ellroy. In this novel, one of the protagonists is a French Canadian mobster named Pete Bondurant, who ends up embroiled in the assassination (indeed, a little online research indicated that screenwriters Fabienne Larouche & Michel Trudeau were inspired to write the film after reading Ellroy’s novel).

While on the whole I did not entirely enjoy the film, it definitely was not without its merits. Rémy Girard does a great job as Rivard, and he handles the French, English, and Spanish dialogue very well. Girard has a commanding presence on screen, and he’s one of the top actors in the province. Colm Feore also does a good job as Rivard’s corrupt CIA contact. Despite the fact that he’s playing an American, most of Feore’s dialogue is in French, which actually makes sense if you think about it.

One thing that’s important to note is that “Le Piège Américain” is out in two versions. The French version (which is the version reviewed) features some French narration at times by Girard as Rivard, and also features some English dialogue which is subtitled in French. The English version of the film is called “The American Trap”, and judging from the English trailer, features the Rivard narration in English, while the majority of the film remains in French, but subtitled in English. 


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