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36 Quai des Orfèvres

France 2005
Directed by
Olivier Marchal
110 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

36 Quai Des Orfevres

Synopsis: 36 Quai des Orfèvres is to the French what Scotland Yard is to the British. At the Criminal Investigations Division of the Paris Police, Leo Vrinks (Daniel Auteuil) and Denis Klein (Gerard Dépardieu) are thrown a challenge by the Head of Judicial Police. Whoever can capture a violent armed robbery gang which has been successfully eluding jsutice will become the new Police Chief. Vrinks and Klein, once friends, are now in conflict and will stop at nothing to achieve their goal.

Director and writer Olivier Marchal is a one-time policeman and he has based this story upon his own experiences. Even so, this is no realistic cop drama but a stylish genre film very much in the French manner. Marchal has made no secret of the fact that he wanted to make a Gallic version of Michael Mann’s masterpiece, Heat (1995) and certainly there are points of resemblance, with two seasoned professionals going head to head in a slick production with some fast and furious action and a strongly unifying tone of inexorable fate at work.

In the leads are France’s two top ranking actors Daniel Auteuil and Gérard Depardieu. Although I never find Auteuil convincing as a tough guy there is no doubt that his performance here as Vrinks is effective, largely because his character is given a plausibly human face. Depardieu’s Klein is less convincing, not because the actor in any way is not up to the part but because Marchal has not managed to bring his character in focus effectively - he is a mélange of cop stereotypes, a loner with a drinking problem, dedicated to his job to the point of obsession, cynical from so many years dealing with criminals and so on but his Faustian pact is not particularly credible. Why is such an individual the supposed darling of the Establishment and why is he so desirous of the power they are willing to give him? Perhaps if the parts had been exchanged between the actors these questions may have been unnecessary for Auteuil has a kind of shifty anonymity that could never be said of Depardieu.

Even more problematically though, plotwise, the script is annoyingly weak. Thus, the keystone upon which the story rests, the recognition of Vrinks at a murder scene by a prostitute, is completely implausible. How could she recognize a man in another car in front of her own when she supposedly had her face in the lap of a gangster giving him a “BJ”. This is only the most glaring instance of a number of contrivances which Marchal employs to keep his story moving. The result is a film which consistently looks good in a darkly morose way but which is ultimately overwhelmed by its heavily romanticised bleakness. Michael Mann has nothing to worry about.




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