REVIEW: DVD Release: Spiral: Engrenages - Series 2

Series: Spiral: Engrenages - Series 2
Release date: 9th August 2010
Certificate: 18
Running time: 392 mins
Director: Philippe Triboit, Pascal Chaumeil, Gilles Bannier, Philippe Venault, Manuel Boursinhac & Jean-Marc Brondolo
Starring: Caroline Proust, Grégory Fitoussi, Philippe Duclos, Fred Bianconi, Thierry Godard
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Studio: 2 Entertain/BBC
Format: DVD
Country: France

Critically acclaimed stylistic French police drama Spiral (French title: Engrenages - which literally means gears) ups its game as it moves into a highly anticipated second series. Loyal fans, indubitably salivating by its upcoming release onto DVD, need not be its sole audience as absolutely no knowledge of the first series is necessary for this eight part Gallic drama.

A young boy, mobile phone in hand, hides in the shadows and films infamous drug dealer and wannabe rap star Aziz (Reda Kateb) inflict severe retribution on a debtor by imprisoning him in a car boot and burning him alive. Chief Inspector Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust) leads the investigation while simultaneously looking into a seemingly unrelated case involving a teenage drug dealer who is selling heroin to his peers. Red-haired human rights lawyer Josephine Karlsson (Audrey Fleurot) champions the downtrodden while accepting bribes from wife beaters and entering into a dangerous game of career mongering by accusing the police of heavy handed brutality.

This introduction into small time dealers and urban violence is merely a stepping stone to something more elaborate, complicated and compelling. It is in fact a gateway to the treacherous world of international drug trafficking, arms dealers, paranoid rivalries and loyalties fused with questionable morality. On the legal side, we witness the interaction between police officers, governmental officials and judiciary, which, in truth, is nothing short of an indictment of a stale and corrupt legal system. The villains are so much more than one dimensional cannon fodder for the police; they are expertly crafted characters with individual personality traits, each living in a world of grey while hoping for something better - some hope of escape from a doomed existence…

Initially the series structure appears similar to that of the American drama Law And Order - cops investigate, make arrests then hand over the legal baton to their brothers in arms, the lawyers, and all cases are wrapped up by the end of each episode. Not Spiral! By the end of the first episode, these clearly defined lines merge into a murky quagmire of ambitious double dealings and hidden agendas. As the credits roll after each adrenaline pumping cliff-hanger we are often left with more questions than answers. The world is complicated, some investigations fade, some interact with the main ongoing story, and some are little more than devices to permit greater character development. For example, a wife swapping night gone bad and a teenager’s suicide leap from his flat are unrelated, or very tenuously related at best to the main plot. Yet these scenes are essential in giving us unique insights into individual, often for the most part office bound characters’ hidden talents and emotional depths.

There are so many insidious criss-crossing storylines and well drawn strong personalities, each with their own personal demons and ideas of justice, that any detailed attempt at describing the multi layered plot could never begin to do this series justice. Sure we have seen numerous cop/lawyer dramas before and, to be fair, the stories in Spiral are far from unique. However, where the true strength of this programmes lies is in the superb writing and beautifully observed character arcs.

Inspector Berthaud is an energetic obsessive investigator who, at the expense of her personal life, is willing to go to almost any lengths to protect her men and/or get a conviction. Judge Roban (Philippe Duclos) is a respected yet cold and remote figure who begins to realise that his dedication to his profession has alienated him from the people he loves. Deputy Prosecutor Clement (Gregory Fitoussi) believes in the integrity of the justice system yet the higher he climbs the further he will have to compromise his values. He is conversely friendly with straight laced Judge Roban, obsessive Inspector Berthaud and the cynical yet highly ambitious lawyer Josephine Karlsson. These four main players make up less than a third of the large ensemble cast in this delightfully crafted drama. The casting is inspired, the actors universally fantastic and seemingly born for their parts, making it difficult to imagine them playing any other roles.

The editing is edgy yet crisp, the style realistic, earthy like the 1970s heyday of cutting edge police television. Each individual episode is well paced, relentless yet slowing down at just the right moment to allow us a quick gulp of air before the next revelation or onslaught of heart racing drama. The action scenes are exciting and expertly executed with intelligent camerawork emphasising the heightened emotion as it moves between characters, picking up each facial tick and psychological nuance. Second guessing where the plot is going is a joy especially during a finale that has you on the edge of your seat.

This second series of Spiral is an intriguing multilayered story and a skilfully directed, atmospheric and suspense fuelled thrill ride that will stay in the mind long after the final episode has drained your emotional tank dry. MG

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