Sunday, June 26, 2011

On the Job, En Français: 36th Precinct

It’s a case of bad cop-really darn bad cop. That might sound hard on the criminals, but these Parisian policemen are more concerned with doing unto each other in former copper turned actor-director Olivier Marchal’s hard-boiled and hard-bitten 36th Precinct, now available on DVD and Blue-Ray from Palisades Tartan.

There is a crew taking down armored cars in Paris. There are good at what they do and frequently lethal. Neither the BRI or the BRB divisions of the Police judicaire have any leads. Even if they did, they are not inclined to cooperate. Léo Vrinks is definitely a paperwork flaunting corner cutter in the tradition of Dirty Harry. He is the good guy. The borderline incompetent CYA-ing Denis Klein is the bad guy. Unfortunately, he plays politics far better than his BRI counterpart.

Vrinks appears to gain the upper hand when an informant calls him with information. Naturally, it comes with a wicked catch. Out on a two day prison leave, Hugo Silien manipulates the mostly straight Vrinks into abetting the murder of the underworld figure who ratted him out. The intel is still good though. Of course, you know there has to be a witness out there somewhere and guess who takes on the case. As it turns out, it was Klein’s snitch that got whacked.

Klein is a transparent stand-in BRB head Raymond Mertz, who was protected and promoted by the police bureaucracy despite erratic actions which reportedly led to the death of a fellow officer during a shootout with the so-called Wig Gang. It is safe to assume Mertz did offer publicity support for 36th Precinct or 36 Quai des Orfèvres as it was known in France (sort of the Parisian equivalent of One Police Plaza). Well known for a series of French cop shows, Marchal has probably burned a few bridges with 36 as well, though he most likely represents the views of many rank-and-file on the job at the time. Indeed, there are scenes in 36 that crackle with visceral outrage at Klein/Mertz’s charmed ascent.

As Vrinks, Daniel Auteuil is so intense he looks brittle enough to snap in two. Gérard Depardieu, not yet as ballooned-up and wheezy as he is in the more recent Inspector Bellamy, radiates a sense of calculating villainy as Klein. As usual though, nobody can out do Roschdy Zem’s Silien for stone cold badness. A truly all-star French cast, André Dussollier also has some memorable moments as the patrician police chief Robert Mancini, while the director himself notably plays against type as the ailing ex-con Christo.

36 is quite well constructed, tying together what first appear to be episodic subplots into a rather tidy package. It also has armored carload of guns. An entertaining fix of shootouts and police corruption, 36 is far better than many French imports released theatrically over the last few years, very definitely worth checking out on DVD.