Directed by: Oliver MarchalStarring: Daniel Auteuil, Olivia Bonamy, Phillippe Nahon
Schnieder (Auteuil), the Hardest of hard-boiled detective police officers in the hardass city of Marseille, grows more embittered and isolated by the day. His faith in the world is ebbing visibly, especially since a man responsible for a brutal string of slayings 25 years prior is set to walk free soon. The woman whose family he killed has asked for help and protection, but is the man reformed and, indeed, repentant and no longer a threat as he says and seems? And how on earth will Schnieder cope with this on top of dealing (badly) with traumatic memories of earlier cases and a new and grisly murder investigation?
From the start this does rather tick the boxes of anti hero clichéd cop drama. I mean the guy seems like a villain when we meet him hijacking a bus at gunpoint to turn round and take him home, because he passed out steaming drunk and missed his stop. He’s up there with Hackman’s brilliant Popeye Doyle from the French Connection. And I for one have no problem with this at all, because familiar doesn’t have to be lame if it’s done well, and it is. Auteuil’s acting is first class. Coupled with lingering heartfelt direction from Marchal we don’t see some two dimensional cliché, we see a man fatigued and slowly languishing, the fatigue and certainty of slow death oozing through his stubble and written in the lines on his cheeks.
This story is a slow burning cop drama of very French sensibilities, and will seem like a slow start to many, but it is worth it. The story arc has to develop and mature and even minor characters grow into real or at least recognisable personalities with depth and consequently more impact. Schnieder’s bearded hippy colleague for example. The fresh homicide to which he assigned early on has to take root in his mind and nag at him in ways far beyond mere professional intrigue.
All of the characters shuffle or strut their way though a back drop of crumbling French Grandeur, there is a love of history and shown here looming in the form of the ancient coastal town’s buildings and bridges. People living a twentieth century life seem to be just passing through.
The Prison scenes with Subra the killer turned ‘redeeming man of faith’ are other worldly and terrifying, how can you live inside this vast monolith? Where time like the gothic corridors with iron door after iron door, is stretched out so far as to become meaningless?
Subra himself puts one in mind of Deniro’s Tatooed Bible Belt ex-con Max Cady from Cape Fear, yet far more benevolent. And always we are questioning the innermost truth. Is he changed? The genius of the role is the moments when you wonder if he is wondering too.
Some of the interiors are actually reminiscent of Ridley Scotts Blade runner in the final scenes, and I don’t believe it is by accident. The crumbling dilapidated bolt hole with artistically rotted wallpaper and bare floors, and the semi derelict looking brothels where Schnieder stalks his Nemesis stand as a counter point to the clean lines of the Beach house where Bonamy works out in tracksuit. Inescapable fatalism in a black coat against optimism in gym kit.
Predictably Bonamy’s influence is the catalyst for a shot at redemption for Schnieder, and a seriously welcome antidote to our immersion in the grinding loss and emptiness of his life. Their interactions are like a wellspring of optimism, and there is a care which prior to that we really only saw for his pet cat (All the best people are cat people...) At points the film has a TV feel, sometimes deductive links are made which seem perhaps painfully staged (The Vets office for one) however it is otherwise so artfully acted and beautifully shot that it really cannot help but draw you in. It’s a work of police fiction by a man with direct experience of the realities of detective work, who has brought an artistic yet not overblown vision to the portrayal of life’s extremes. It’s never more vulgar than most other films of violence, and the crime scene where Schnieder and his colleagues manhandle the female victim in an apparently careless way are more saddening than shocking as it really should be.
French Cinema is just more keen to show a grubby reality than bow down to or smash certain moralities and it can be uncomfortable which in this day and age is an achievement in itself.
A powerful engaging drama, anyone who is into Crime Drama Mystery Detective type stuff will get something from this. And if they do they can check out the other two films in the series by the same director.
7 out of 10 (Sulaco)
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