The Crimson Rivers (15)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner12/06/2001

Three stars out of five
Running Time: 105 mins

Gallant Gallic attempt to do a Hollywood-style schlocky thriller – great performances and some impressive camerawork, but slightly marred by a frankly ridiculous ending.

The Crimson Rivers is a transparent attempt by the French film industry to beat Hollywood at its own game, by turning out the sort of shocks-and-gore-laden psycho-killer flick that Hollywood routinely churns out as a matter of course. In fact, on that criteria, you’d have to pronounce The Crimson Rivers ‘un success’, because while not reaching the heights of say, Seven (a definite influence), it’s certainly head and shoulders above the likes of The Bone Collector or The Watcher.

Be thankful, too, that the distributors came to their senses and dumped the dubbed version (after it provoked unintentional laughter at screenings) – the version currently in cinemas has subtitles, but don’t let that put you off. The plot starts very promisingly indeed. Grizzled ‘supercop’ Pierre Nemans (Jean Reno) turns up in a remote Alpine community to investigate a grisly murder – the body of a man has been found suspended up a mountain, trussed up in the foetal position, with his eyes gouged out and his hands cut off.

Meanwhile, a few hundred kilometres away, Lieutenant Max Kerkorian (Vincent Cassel – star of director Kassovitz’s masterful La Haine) is investigating the desecration of the grave of a girl who died twenty years ago. Inevitably, their paths cross as they discover that their cases may well be related…

First things first – it has to be said that Reno and Cassel make a superb team, even though the film contrives to keep them apart for almost an hour. Both men are Very Big Stars in France and it’s not hard to see why, as they’re both excellent here.

As such, the supporting cast barely get a look-in (Euro-totty Nadia Fares aside), but keep an eye out for a nun that looks disturbingly like William Hague. There’s also a very odd scene in which Cassel gets to kick-box a bunch of skin-heads to the accompaniment of an arcade game soundtrack.

The film is terrifically atmospheric, thanks to superb camerawork by Thierry Arbogast, including a spectacular crane shot pulling back over the mountains – a Kassovitz trademark familiar from La Haine. This is definitely heightened by the glorious locations, which seem somehow incongruous with such grisly crimes – indeed, the setting and a large part of the film are very reminiscent of The Name of the Rose, which achieved a similar effect.

Ultimately, what lets the film down is the plot, which falls apart towards the end and concludes in an utterly bonkers finale that will leave you scratching your head in bewilderment.

However, just as you’re about to give up the ghost with the plot, Kassovitz springs one last surprise – a terrific FX sequence that literally blows the story away and leaves you gasping for breath as the credits roll. (It’s also worth noting that this one sequence alone far surpasses anything in The Mummy Returns.)

All in all, then, this is a watchable thriller with two excellent central performances, the requisite dose of shocks and gore and a strong sense of atmosphere. Worth watching.

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Content updated: 24/10/2017 03:20

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