The New Protocol is a French thriller about evil multinational drug companies (“Big Pharma”) who stop at nothing, including murder, to maximize their profits, and a couple of plucky victims who fight to expose their crimes. Or maybe not.
Because what’s kind of cool about The New Protocol is that while for a time it appears to be a pretty straightforward story of corporate monsters versus the determined underdogs they made the mistake of pissing off, by the second half of the movie plenty of questions and doubts have arisen as to whether things are quite as simple as they appear.
Raoul is a taciturn lumberjack working with his team out in the woods when he receives a call that his son has died in a one-car accident on a country road. He is contacted by the mysterious Diane who, calling herself an “investigator,” tells him that his son was taking part in a clinical trial for a drug that has had so many problems that the drug company is frantically recalling it and shutting down all trials, and that it likely caused his son to fall asleep at the wheel as a side effect. She implores him to get her the bottle of pills that his son had with him when he died so that they can be analyzed in a lab to prove that the company was knowingly putting subjects at unacceptable risk.
Raoul is skeptical at first, but soon becomes a believer after his house is broken into and ransacked, as he interprets this as the bad guys looking for the drug. He agrees to join forces with Diane, who tells him that her motivation is similar to his, in that her husband was also killed in a flawed clinical drug trial.
As I say, for a while the movie then proceeds as a conventional thriller, as they fight drug company goons, break into offices to obtain incriminating evidence, etc.
But over time, Raoul—and the viewer—is given reason to wonder what’s really going on. Diane turns out to be part of some leftist cell, and they rant far more about other Big Pharma crimes (e.g., their clinical trials in the Third World are done without informed consent and are basically the modern day equivalent of the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study, they use propaganda to generate all kinds of “new” conditions that need a pharmaceutical solution and then they manufacture and market the drugs to meet these bogus needs, and they withhold drugs from millions of poor people and let them die when it’s in their financial self-interest to do so) than about the kind of allegedly flawed clinical trials in First World countries that supposedly killed Raoul’s son and Diane’s husband.
Diane at times seems not just fiercely determined in response to losing a loved one to wrongdoing, but possibly unstable. She pushes to go beyond stealing files from offices and such to out-and-out terrorism, like kidnapping drug company executives.
When Raoul investigates the scene of where his son’s car went off the road, he concludes that had he fallen asleep at the wheel it’s impossible that he would have gone off that side of the road in that fashion. Diane waves this off with a “Whatever, then he didn’t fall asleep; the drug company goons ran him off the road because they wanted to try to get the drugs back from him before they could be independently analyzed” response, like never mind the details, let’s continue the fight.
Also, did Diane really have a husband who died in a clinical drug trial? The only evidence for that so far is that she says so.
And by the way, though they don’t treat it in the movie as a point of suspicion, what sense does it make that the drug company would fear an analysis of the drug undergoing a clinical trial? What about its chemical composition or whatever could prove that it would have too severe side effects for a clinical trial to be safe?
Of course on the occasions that Raoul is able to confront a drug company executive they calmly explain to him why the positions of people like Diane don’t comport with the evidence, which, yes, is just what you’d expect smooth criminals to say when accused of wrongdoing, but then again is also what they’d say if they were speaking the truth and Diane was a nut or had some hidden ideological agenda.
I’m not going to claim to have caught and understood all the various twists and turns in The New Protocol. My sense is that by the end enough evidence is provided to make certain hypotheses more likely than others while still leaving some ambiguity, but it’s possible that things are actually more definitively resolved than that and I just missed it.
On the whole, the film is reasonably well done and mostly held my interest, especially by the second half. It didn’t feel like a film that hit me really hard or that I’ll remember longer than most that I see, but it’s decent.