Olivier Marchal's 2004 film The 36th Precinct (or, as it was released in France, 36 Quai Des Orfevres, or as it was released in the UK simply 36) follows two French police officers, Leo Vrinks (Daniel Auteuil) and Denis Klein (Gerard Depardieu) as they set out to stop a group of ruthless thieves who have been preying on the people of Paris for some time now. The cops, lead by commanding officer Robert Mancini (Andre Dussollier), have been powerless to stop them as they are continually outsmarted at pretty much every turn. Mancini tells his men that whoever can bring the hoods in will get his job - and so Vrinks and Klein soon find themselves in the running for the top spot on the force.
Though Vrinks and Klein have been friends a long time, tensions mount between the two men as they set out to catch the crooks. This affects their personal lives, with Vrinks' relationship with his loving wife,Camille (Valeria Golino), and their young daughter feeling the stress. Klein, on the other hand, has a tendency to fall inside a bottle when things get tough, and they're rarely tougher than they are right now - but he's got his eye on the prize and will do whatever he needs to do in order to land himself Mancini's position.
When a criminal named Hugo Silien (Roschdy Zem) is let out of prison and phones Vrinks with some information, he agrees to meet him in a fancy suburb but soon finds that he's been set up. He does, however, get the information he wants which puts him closer to the thieves than Klein, he falls further into a bad place and winds up in some serious trouble of his own.
Loosely based on an all too real string of daring robberies that took place in France in the early 1980s, The 36th Precinct is clever, slick and uncompromisingly tough. Not just gritty for the sake of gritty, this film really does a great job of putting us in the moment, letting us get to know the central characters enough that we're interested in them but at the same time keeping us intrigued by some clever plot development and exciting action sequences. It's also interesting how Marchal's film puts two established icons of French cinema - Daniel Auteuil and Gerard Depardieu - in roles that less confident actors might pass on. The men they play are very human, prone to making plenty of mistakes and this is made painfully clear as the movie progresses. These are not tough as nails invincible supercops, rather, these are flawed individuals who don't always make the right decision or do the right thing. Both actors are excellent in their parts, and their nihilistic characters are played very believably.
A rather cold looking film from a visual standpoint, The 36th Precinct will no doubt remind some viewers of Mann's Heat, and those comparisons aren't completely unwarranted as the two films do share some themes and ideas, but Marchal's film benefits from its uniquely Parisian setting and a leaner, more efficient running time. Grim, both thematically and stylistically, the film moves at a good pace and it works in enough subtle political allegory and subterfuge to make it well worth the watch.
Tartan's 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a good one, offering up the film's cool tinted color palette quite nicely without any major problems. Detail is strong from the start, black levels stay pretty stable. The image is clean, clear and stable throughout and there aren't any obvious encoding or source related images to complain about. Skin tones are nice and natural looking and there are no edge enhancement issues to note nor is there much in the way of print damage, dirt or debris to gripe about.
Audio chores are handled by a French language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix that offers strong surround usage and plenty of directional effects throughout. There are no problems with hiss or distortion. There are a few spots where the gun shots don't pack quite the punch they could have, but this is a pretty minor complaint. The dialogue is clean and clear and the optional English subtitles are easy to read and free of any typographical errors. French and English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks are also provided.
Extras start off with an interview with director Olivier Marchal which allows the director to talk for ten minutes or so about what inspired him to make this project and what it was like working with the various participants involved in the film. Interestingly enough, Marchal worked for a period as a French police officer before he became a filmmaker and some of the events in the film are based on his own experiences.
After that, check out the half hour featurette The Real 36 in which Marchal and company are seen shooting a few of the movie's key scenes and which interviews and behind the scenes footage give us some insight into what it was like on set and what was involved in some of the more action intensive scenes in the film.
A pair of shorter featurtettes, each running fourteen minutes or so, cover the costumes and the weapons used in the film and give us a peek into how they strived for authenticity throughout. A teaser for the feature, a theatrical trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Palisades Tartan properties, animated menus and chapter stops round out the extras on the disc. The French release of the movie has a director's commentary but that's not been included here on this domestic debut. All of the extras are in French with English subtitles.
A smart, tense and exciting police thriller, The 36th Precinct really ought to find a wider audience - it's good enough to deserve it and is one of the best of its kind made in the last few years. The DVD release from Palisades Tartan more or less carries everything over from the UK release from a while back, but that's not a bad thing as the quality is quite good. Don't let this one fly under your radar. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.