Saturday, April 25, 2009


Olivier Marchal’s old-school police thriller ‘36’ takes its title from the address of a Parisian police headquarters, 36 Quai des Orfevres. The opening scene has the plaque identifying the building stolen by two motorcycle riders. They turn out to be police: the plaque is gift-wrapped and presented to a retiring detective. It’s a terrific scene, one that sets the tone for a film concerned with moral compromise, the thin line between the cop and the criminal, and the bad things that are done under the cloak of authority.

Think James Ellroy on a continental breakfast and a thirty-a-day Gitanes habit and you’re about there.

Two ambitious and unapologetically unorthodox career cops, Vrinks (Daniel Auteuil) and Klein (Gerard Depardieu) vie for a high-ranking promotion. Both have crossed the line, personally and professionally, on more than one occasion. The rivalry turns personal after Klein, trigger-happy and given to drinking on duty, spectacularly botches a take-down. The ensuing shoot-out is as jolting and visceral as the one in ‘Heat’, a film ‘36’ was justifiably compared to by most critics on its belated release (it was made in 2004 and didn’t show up in UK cinemas until late ’06).

The aftermath of this brilliantly shot and edited sequence takes ‘36’ into different territory, though. Vrinks uses Klein’s unprofessionalism against him, and the other officers send him to whatever the French version of Coventry is. Then fate intervenes and Klein finds something he can use against Vrinks … I’m going no further with the plot synopsis here. Suffice it to say that things get progressively darker and more interesting. And if the set-up seems to point to pure melodrama as the denouement approaches, don’t worry. The pay-off is as memorable as it is unpredictable.

‘36’ is dark, gritty, compelling stuff and when Hollywood gets its finger out of its arse delivers another long overdue Ellroy adaptation (‘White Jazz’, anyone?) it could do a lot worse than emulate Marchal’s blistering directorial style.

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