A mousy, hearing-impaired clerical worker becomes a bold, canny criminal—is this a turning point in the history of pink-collar employees or just a gimmick? As developed by director and co-writer Jacques Audiard’s Read My Lips, it’s just a gimmick, but a pretty good one. This crisp and ultimately quite nasty noir never takes the leap beyond its genre, yet on its own terms it seldom disappoints. Carla (Emmanuelle Devos, using body language in a somewhat successful bid to look less attractive) is an overburdened receptionist for a Paris construction company. One day when Carla is particularly frazzled, her boss suggests that she hire an assistant; after all, trainees from the social-services employment agency aren’t very expensive. It turns out they aren’t very employable, either: The agency sends rough-edged ex-con Paul (Vincent Cassel), who’s clearly unqualified. Perhaps recognizing something of herself in Paul—or at least in his status in society—Carla hires him. Soon they’re exploiting each other’s skills: Carla supplements her hearing aids with lip reading, an ability that Paul has her use to learn the details of a heist being planned by his other boss, the corrupt owner of the club where he works nights. Meanwhile, Carla gets Paul to steal some plans from the car of an overbearing co-worker who’s been taking advantage of her. When Paul’s scheme to heist the heisters goes wrong, he must rely on Carla, who turns out to be coolly ruthless. Although a subplot about Paul’s parole officer plays out predictably, Audiard and co-scenarist Tonino Benacquista supply a taut series of little surprises and darken the mood with a handheld camera’s scrambling progress through tight, shadowy spaces. The only failure of nerve is in the director’s use of music; the early scenes deploy sound sparingly, often emulating the world as Carla hears (or doesn’t hear) it, but Alexandre Desplat’s overwrought score swamps the film’s second half. —Mark Jenkins

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