Fear has engulfed the city of Paris. In a series of deadly strikes a group of highly-sophisticated and utterly brutal criminals has brought the French police to a near state of collapse. No one has any idea where or how to begin an investigation that will put an end to a rather humiliating situation. There are no leads, there are no suspects, yet reports keep pilling up the desk of the local police commissioner. For Leo Vrinks (Daniel Auteuil) and Denis Klein (Gerard Depardieu) however this could be the perfect case.
While Denis Klein desperately wants to succeed the current police commissioner of 36 Quai des Orfevres (the French equivalent of Scotland Yard) Leo Vrinks is increasingly growing tired of the swill Paris has to offer. The daily interaction with informers, undercover cops, and reformed criminals is slowly but surely taking its toll. However, when the commissioner announces that he wants Leo and not Denis to be his successor things get rather complicated. He is also determined that before his effective retirement Paris will be a safer place. But can Leo and Denis solve a puzzle that seems almost unreadable?
Directed by Olivier Marchal, a former police officer who traded his badge for a film camera, 36 Quai des Orfevres is a film that delves deep into the legal system of Paris where awkwardly enough there is a very thin line between those who serve the law and those who try to avoid it. This is a bold film which does not shy away from challenging legal clichés in a manner Matthieu Kassovitz's La Haine tackled society's stereotypes about race and class. In fact, one could hardly see the finale of 36 Quai des Orfevres as anything but a harsh critique of a legal system that has been shattered by scandals-many of them not as factious as the plot structured by Olivier Marchal.
Long before the announcement of this project there was a great deal of excitement among French audiences regarding the fact that two of the best male actors France has to offer, Daniel Auteuil and Gerard Depardieu, will likely collide on the big screen. Immediate parallels were drawn, rather unfortunately, with Michael Mann's highly acclaimed Heat where America's best Robert De Niro and Al Pacino appeared together. While Heat however relied on an all-star cast and a very balanced script where both action and drama were mixed to perfection 36 Quai des Orfevres is clearly built upon the presence of the two French superstars. There is a distinctively gritty look that Olivier Marchal was aiming for and both the script and the acting in this film deliver quite convincingly.
Visibly influenced by the classic Henri-Georges Clouzot film Quai des Orfevres (1947) Olivier Marchal's recent production feeds off of a very stylish camera work and well-thought of and realistic action scenes that will appeal to a large group of moviegoers. This is a dark, at times perhaps too dark, and brutal film that relies on plenty of violence and point-blank action scenes. Unlike many of Hollywood's productions however the action does not become a burden to the film but compliments the excellent acting provided by both Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil. In addition, the presence of the beautiful Italian actress Valeria Golino (Respiro) provides a mild touch to a film that might prove to be a tad too gritty for some.
While not the spectacular French blockbuster many wanted it to be 36 Quai des Orfevres clearly provides plenty of entertainment. This is a well structured and above all convincing police-thriller that is distinctively European. Unfortunately, due to some unknown to me reasons yet again a film that could have appealed to many North American viewers, especially due to the fact that Gerard Depardieu and Daniel Auiteuil are rarely seen on the big screen together, is without a US distribution deal.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's this R1 Canadian release by Seville (similar to the R3 version) appears to have been delivered from a secondary PAL source. "Ghosting" however is not as rampant as one might expect from such a print. Colors are steady, contrast is excellent, and the picture quality virtually replicates what could be seen on the French disc. I have some strong suspicion that because of the extremely high quality of the R2 disc both Seville and Edko decided to simply copy the film print for their releases. Nevertheless, aside from the above mentioned mild "ghosting" issues the transfer is virtually flawless.
How Does the Disc Sound?
Unlike the French disc and the R3 version by Edko the Canadian Seville release offers only the 5.1 French track avoiding the spectacular DTS mix that could be found on the R2 release. The sound is crisp, convincing, and plenty of good use of the rear channels. I could not spot and particular faults with this presentation although there is indeed a bit of a disappointment in me due to the fact that the Canadian producers have decided to drop the DTS track virtually for no reason that I could see. In French with optional English subtitles.
The Canadian release does appear to have a few extras which unfortunately do not offer English subtitles. First off, there is a "Making of" during which the director of the film follows up on the story and main story while we are offered extracts from different scenes. As everything is in French those of you that will need English subtitles to understand what is being said will probably not find this extra of great interest. Next, there is a rather long section of interviews in which both the director and the cast discuss their contribution to the film. Daniel Auteuil's interview is probably the most enjoyable one as he goes into some very specific aspects of the film.
Once again however this entire section is only in French so English speakers should be quite disappointed. Next, there is a fascinating piece of extra footage that reveals most of the weaponry being used in the film. Even if you do not understand French the footage is simply stunning as it shows an arsenal of basically any weapon you could imagine and the manner in the more common ones are being used. Fascinating indeed! Last but not least there is a short trailer of the film which is once again not subbed in English.
I am in clear disagreement with those that attempt to compare 36 Quai des Orfevres to Michael Mann's Heat. While the fact that two of the best France has to offer appear on screen as it was the case with Al Pacino and Robert De Niro in Heat these are two very different films. They investigate characters that are quite distinctive in their deeds and at least in the case of 36 Quai des Orfevres the main protagonists seemed doomed to me.
An honest, convincing, and perhaps a bit too gritty French thriller-RECOMMENDED.