The Crimson Rivers
2000, R, 106 min. Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz. Starring Jean Reno, Vincent Cassel, Nadia Farès, Olivier Morel, Dominique Sanda.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 10, 2001
Rivers of blood snake through this French thriller which is set in the Alpine glaciers. Aiming for something along the lines of The Silence of the Lambs or Se7en, The Crimson Rivers is indeed a wild ride, even if it often transgresses logic and believability. In fact, the movie's climax and conclusion are downright preposterous. The amazing thing, however, is that these excesses detract little from the film's overall suspense or watchability. It's truly a credit to the talents of director Kassovitz, and actors Reno (The Professional) and Cassel (Kassovitz's Hate), who here dominate the foreground action much the same way the glacial landscape dominates the background: It's all chilly and grisly. The film is based on Jean-Cristophe Grangé's novel of the same title, and was adapted for the screen by Grangé and Kassovitz. It is the first film directed by Kassovitz that did not also originate with him, and this thriller marks a definite digression from the passionate social agendas of his previous films (Cafe au Lait, the Assassin(s), and Hate, for which he won the Best Director award at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, as well as awards for the film's screenplay and editing). The storyline of The Crimson Rivers is a baroque affair about bizarre murders, a serial killer who delights in baiting detectives, a strange university isolated in the mountains, a crazed nun (played by the always-transcendent Dominique Sanda), mausoleum desecration, glacial engineering, eugenics, and, well, to say much more would ruin the movie's surprises. Know that several of the movie's images are truly gruesome, as they describe and then visually linger over the killer's handiwork. The overall look of the movie, however, is magnificent, with a clarity of images (shot by cinematographer Thierry Arbogast) that seems to match the purity of the crystalline mountain air. Reno and Cassel play detectives who are each working on separate cases but are led to each other by their steady pursuit of clues. Reno's Pierre Niémans is a detective of legendary renown and Cassel's Max Kerkerian is an unconventional renegade. Together they make a formidable team, but of course they are something of a mismatched and uneasy pair. These two hold our attention even when the narrative around them threatens to spin out of control. The movie contains one completely unnecessary scene of a martial-arts fight in a skinhead bar, and plot twists that defy all plausibility. Surprisingly, these things do not impede terribly on one's enjoyment of the picture. These crimson rivers may flow rather purple, but their strong current has an inexorable and undeniable pull.