REVIEW: DVD Release: The Crimson Rivers

Film: The Crimson Rivers
Release date: 26th November 2001
Certificate: 15
Running time: 101 mins
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Starring: Jean Reno, Vincent Cassel, Nadia Farès, Dominique Sanda, Karim Belkhadra
Genre: Crime/Mystery/Thriller
Studio: Sony
Format: DVD
Country: France

The Crimson Rivers (Les Rivières Pourpres), based on the best selling French novel of the same name by Jean-Christophe Grangé (who also co-wrote the screenplay) is an unabashed attempt to make a French Hollywood-style thriller.

A mutilated body, tied in the foetal position and missing both its eyes and hands, turns up high in the French Alps. Super detective Pierre Niemans (Reno) is called in to investigate, enlisting local glaciologist Fanny Ferreira (Farès) to help him understand the extreme conditions in which the body was found.

Meanwhile in the town of Sarzac, Detective Inspector Max Kerkerian (Cassel) investigates his own mystery, the desecration of a young girl’s tomb and apparent theft of her body. Kerkerian pursues the case, desperate to find any information he can about the girl, but somebody seems to be erasing her from history, and nobody is giving any answers.

The two cases soon become intertwined, and the reluctant duo team up to begin an unsettling tour of the local university, where everyone seems just a little too perfect, and the nearby town, where everyone seems the complete opposite. Something’s very wrong in this quiet mountain town, kept afloat by the all powerful university, but what Niemans and Kerkerian discover will horrify even these two hardened detectives…

The Crimson Rivers starts so well, an intriguing and atmospheric police story that unsettles initially with the gruesomely mutilated bodies, then, once the conspiracy begins, draws you in with a compelling plot.

Where The Crimson Rivers really excels is in its aesthetic department. As with La Haine, director Mathieu Kassovitz creates a striking visual aesthetic - a stunning pallet on which to play out his macabre tale, with blood red playing out against an overwhelmingly snow white landscape. The model effects of the mutilated corpses are unnervingly realistic, with the production team producing the grimmest representation they could - particularly during the opening credits, where the camera investigates and probes every minute detail of the first corpse.

The score is haunting and sits with the big budget aesthetics perfectly, recalling John Carpenter’s classic Halloween, so instantly recognisable as a chilling accompaniment to the horrific events being investigated.

Reno is perfectly cast as the constantly exhausted Commissaire Niemans. It seems Reno has become typecast as a cop, even within his native France, so he’s not really stretching himself. Vincent Cassel, at this time poised on the cusp of international superstardom, deliverers a frantic performance that runs in parallel to Reno’s slow and methodical Niemans. The pair truly gel together onscreen and are a joy to watch playing off each other’s opposite personalities. Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel carry the movie with their performances, but the plot unfortunately does descend into the realm of lunacy.

Thematically drawing heavily on the works of Fincher, De Palma and Hitchcock, The Crimson Rivers makes no apologies for its Hollywood influences, instead it revels in the style, but this sees the early promise descend into a run-of-the-mill Hollywood action movie. Cassel, for his part, is involved in perhaps the most bizarrely out of place scene in the film, a kung-fu battle between himself and a gang of skinheads. This scene, with its use of video game aesthetics, feels so superfluous to the film.

Another problem is that for all the interesting ideas and larger conspiracies alluded to, the film doesn’t deliver with its grand finale - a cop-out that leaves the viewer feeling short changed.

The Crimson Rivers is highly watchable as a popcorn police thriller. It’s just such a pity that the film is let down by its final third after producing an initially compelling plot line. CSA

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