Office rivalry leads to nasty games of one-upmanship and worse in Alain Corneau’s nifty psychological thriller, which has the feel of a Patricia Highsmith novel without quite capturing the diamond-like brilliance of one. Still, “Love Crime” will do nicely in a pinch.

Kristin Scott Thomas is Christine, an ambitious, imperious executive in the Paris offices of an agribusiness corporation. She takes advantage of the skill of her mousy underling Isabelle (Ludivine Sagnier), whom she treats with a mixture of cool affection and barely concealed contempt. When Christine, who’s angling for a promotion to the firm’s New York office, takes credit for one of Isabelle’s ideas to increase her profile with her American bosses, the younger woman is annoyed enough to plot with the Machiavellian Daniel (Guillaume Marquet) to cut Christine out of the loop on another deal, sabotaging her promotion, while cultivating favor with the owners for herself.

That leads Christine to take retaliatory action, using Philippe (Patrick Mille), whom Isabelle’s fallen for, to lure the girl into a humiliating public display that she happily shares with the entire executive staff. But that’s only the first stage in an escalating confrontation between the women that ultimately leads to murder. But what follows is no whodunit. To the contrary, it’s a “Columbo”-like contraption in which the question is whether the killer will get away with the crime, and if so how. The resolution demands patience and concentration of the viewer—the film is both slow-moving and complicated—but it’s clearly laid out, thanks to the clever scripting, crisp direction and sensitive editing by Thierry Derocles), and there’s a nifty twist at the end to satisfy, at least in part, the requirements of justice.

Scott Thomas and Sagnier make Christine and Isabelle’s face-off a memorable affair, with the former’s haughtiness contrasting nicely with the latter’s apparent vulnerability. The predominantly male supporting cast are all fine, apparently enjoying—with one exception—being used and abused by them. Cinematographer Yves Angelo’s compositions cannily accentuate the tense relationship between the leads, and Pharoah Sanders contributes a bluesy saxophone-dominated score that’s all the better for being sparingly employed.

“Love Crime”—a title that reflects the film’s opening scene, which points to the fact that what follows derives from an unrequited, if peculiar, attraction—has the cool, understated tension that marked the suspense films of Claude Chabrol as well as Highsmith’s examinations of human malevolence. If their works are to your taste, this should suit it as well.