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Reviewed February 25th, 2002 by David Nusair


The Crimson Rivers features a plot so complex, so convoluted, that it makes Memento look like a Garry Marshall film.

Jean Reno stars as a grizzled and seasoned cop sent to a small village on the outskirts of Paris to investigate a killing. The crime: A young man has been brutally murdered (he was tortured for several hours before he finally died) and his corpse has been left in a fashion that provokes the local police into believing a serial killer may be responsible. Once Reno starts digging, he discovers that the victim hails from a completely enclosed college – one that relies on the outside world for nothing. After hooking up with a woman that studies avalanches (it’s plausible in the context of the flick, I promise), he finds out that the school is suffering from rampant inbreeding. On the flipside, there’s a local cop (Vincent Cassel) investigating a seemingly unrelated manner involving the desecration of a mausoleum. It goes without saying that the cases aren’t as separate as initially suspected, and the two very different cops become reluctant partners.

Filmed with extreme gusto by Mathieu Kassovitz, The Crimson Rivers is a silly but immensely entertaining little thriller. Kassovitz’s claim to fame is a gritty film called Hate (or La Haine, if you’re so inclined), which detailed the tough life amongst poor youths in France’s seedy underbelly. Like that movie, he infuses many sequences with bravura camerawork – which, in this case, elevates the bizarre storyline and prevents the movie from becoming an all-out mess. This is certainly one of those cases where the direction and acting are far better than the script.

Not that the script is all that awful, really; it’s just incredibly weird. There’s not too many flicks that feature twins switched at birth and genetic experiments involving clones – and expect to be taken seriously. But put those bizarre elements in the context of a thriller, and it works on a visceral level. Add to the mix some stunningly gorgeous locales, and you’ve got an effective (if confusing) thriller.

Another thing this flick’s got going for it are the performances of Reno and Cassel. Reno, best known to American audiences as that French guy from Godzilla, turns in yet another stellar performance as the bitter and jaded cop. Likewise, as the rough and tumble newbie thrown into the mix, Cassel brings a sense of lit-fuse urgency to the role.

The Crimson Rivers may take a few viewings to really figure out what the heck the denouement meant, but even if you only watch it once, this stylish thriller delivers.

Audio: You’ve got a lot of choices when you sit down to watch The Crimson Rivers. Included are a French DD 5.1 soundtrack (as well as a 2.0 track), in addition to an English 5.1 soundtrack. While I don’t recommend the English soundtrack (it’s not, after all, how the film was intended to be seen), for a dub, it’s pretty good – primarily because Reno has dubbed over his own voice. But getting back to the French 5.1 track; it’s amazing. A lot of this movie has to do with atmosphere – it’s generally night time and it’s often raining – and this track is incredibly active. During a sequence with a thunder storm, your rear speakers will come alive so vividly, it really will feel as though you’re there.

Video: This anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 transfer is also pretty amazing. A lot of this movie takes place in the dark, which must have been difficult but looks fine here. Artifacts are nil.

Extras: Well, the first extra is a commentary track featuring Jean Reno and the director…but unless you speak French, it’s not going to mean much. No subtitles have been included. This was obviously a mistake, but since it has yet to be corrected, better try to grab a Parisian friend to translate. No matter, also included is a 50-minute documentary on the making of the movie (this is in French as well, but it’s subtitled), which will tell you everything you want to know about the movie – and then some. This is how you do a making-of featurette. It’s packed with information – everything from the origins of the novel to an eventual explanation (by the author of the book no less) of what really happened at the end. In fact, it was that explanation that finally allowed me to understand the movie. Another interesting part of this documentary is Cassel’s dissatisfaction with the final product. He speaks openly about how while the movie is incredibly entertaining to him, it doesn’t make any sense; he calls the film an ambitious failure. This was fascinating – watching a star actually speak honestly about the final product. This is a great documentary, ranking right up there with some of the great ones.

But wait, there’s more! Also included are three behind-the-scenes featurettes detailing the making of a trio of individual sequences. These range in time from around 25 minutes to about 10 minutes, and all are fascinating. We get to hear from people involved with the individual pieces of each sequences – from the make-up folks to the composer of the score – and are treated to an in depth dissection of each scene. There’s also some filmographies and a trailer.

Conclusion: The Crimson Rivers works better on DVD, where after you watch the movie and struggle to figure out what happened, you can watch the documentary and have it all explained to you.


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