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A grisly murder and a Nazi grave desecration draw two different police officers to the remote mountain university town of Guernon and to nearby Sarzac. When semi-legend of a Parisian detective Pierre Niemans (Jean Reno) and young daredevil cop Max Kerkerian (Vincent Cassel) come face to face, the investigations take on a new, personal dynamic. But the hideous secret of the murders threatens to engulf them both, as the Alpine tranquility is shattered by exploding secrets from 20 years previously.

Fast and furious though it is, this film has a weighty feel, as if the genre (cop thriller) was being reinvented. The two contributing factors are how the script portrays the cops as men first, cops second; and the other is a hefty orchestral score (played by the Paris Philharmonic Orchestra). The performances, of course, are critical, and both Reno and Cassel deliver the full bottle. Their characters hold us entranced during the investigation, which in itself is routine crime film stuff – if a little convoluted by the end, and (for me) not totally satisfactorily ended. But the detail is remarkable and the tension never lets up. The French – usually thought of by mainstream audiences as romantic or erotic filmmakers - are not often recognised (world wide) as makers of top crime/thriller/cop dramas, but their best work in this multi-layered genre is as good as any Hollywood major or indie film. They make gritty, character-led stories like this one, in which steadicam is a weapon of cinematic choice and machismo is blended with vulnerability to great effect (like tough guy Niemans’ fear of dogs). There is also greater subtlety in the French version of this genre, which distinguishes it as far as I’m concerned. Get your adrenaline rush here, mon ami.
Andrew L. Urban

Full of spine-tingling tension, The Crimson Rivers is a gripping French thriller that showcases the genre at its best. Spectacular snowy alpine vistas with all their majesty form an imposing backdrop to the story, which rips along. The tension and anticipation is greatly enhanced by a lively score, all of it keeping us on the edge of our seats. It starts with a good script: here's a compelling story that engages from the word go. All the elements fascinate, starting with the characters with whom we become involved. Jean Reno is wonderful as the inspector in charge, filling the screen ably and comfortably. Reno has the authority, the presence, the charisma… But he also has the ability to create a very human character with foibles and frailties that make him real. He might be a mega cop but he is terrified of all dogs and has trouble lighting his cigarettes. It's a great team with Vincent Cassel and Nadia Fares complementing the mix. The film is superbly directed, with striking cinematography and great lighting. The wonders of nature are shot to perfection – from an awesome avalanche to breathtaking sunrise panoramas. Wry humour is cleverly integrated into the mix of drama and action and the thrilling climax leaves us excited and satisfied. The French really know how to create mood and there's tons of it here. Gripping intelligent entertainment that is thoroughly recommended.
Louise Keller

With a superior director and cast at work what might have been a routine policier becomes a visually exciting thriller. It doesn't make much sense, mind you, but if style is allowed to substitute for substance, The Crimson Rivers will do quite nicely. Classy wide-screen compositions and a deafening soundtrack add plenty of oomph to this adaptation of Jean-Christophe Grange's best seller set in the French Alps. Jean Reno, the actor with the best hang-dog weary look since Lee Marvin, is ideally cast as the no-nonsense cop who arrives in the village of Guernon after the ill-equipped local constabulary are alerted to a bizarre murder involving eye-plucking and limb severing. 'We haven't worked with you before' says the local uniform. 'You're lucky' replies Niemans. A nearby university with an uncooperative Rector (Didier Flamand) ensures plenty of intrigue later on, as does the apparently unconnected investigation of relaxed cop Kerkerian (played by the dynamic Vincent Cassel) taking place 30 km away. Kerkerian and his uniformed sidekicks who enjoy smoking dope and drinking wine while on duty are handy for chuckles as the threads gradually come together. If you look closely there are sizeable gaps in logic and credibility as the serial killer plot unfolds but this is more than compensated for by director Matthieu
Kassovitz's muscular direction and sense of occasion when staging a murder scene. His handling of abseiling and climbing scenes on the snowcapped mountain deliver exciting results and he injects plenty of vigour into a pool room brawl involving Kerkerian and a gang of skinheads. There are nice touches in the relationship of dogged veteran Niemans and brash Kerkerian and Nadia Fares chimes in well as the girl who knows more than she's saying. A good thriller becomes a memorable one if the denoument pays off - unfortunately that's not the case here and you may leave the cinema wondering exactly who did what to whom. A shame, because even with the inconsistencies this is mostly good meaty stuff for those who like a thriller with plenty of gristle.
Richard Kuipers

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(Les Rivières pourpres)

CAST: Jean Reno, Vincent Cassel, Nadia Fares, Dominique Sanda

PRODUCERS: Alain Goldman

DIRECTOR: Mathieu Kassovitz

SCRIPT: Mathieu Kassovitz (based on novel by Jean-Christophe Grange)


EDITOR: Maryline Monthieux

MUSIC: Bruno Coulais


RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes



French with English subtitles.

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: February 6, 2002

Also available on DVD (2 disc set - DVD Review)

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