The Crimson Rivers
(Les Rivières Pourpes)

The Crimson Rivers

The Crimson Rivers (Les Rivières Pourpes)
Made in: France
Language: French
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Starring: Jean Reno, Vincent Cassell, Nadia Fares, Didier Flamand
Year: 2000

Synopsis: Pierre Niemans (Jean Reno), a legendary police detective, is called in from Paris to investigate a grisly murder at a small town called Guernon. Guernon is located in the French Alps, is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and is known for being home to a highly prestigious but isolated university. The murder victim is a professor and librarian named Remy Caillois, who was found naked, bound, and horribly mutilated (his eyes had been poked out and his hands cut off).

As Niemans goes about his investigation, he encounters Dr. Bernard Chernezé (Jean-Pierre Cassel), a genetics expert who once worked at the university. Dr. Chernezé mentions that generations of interbreeding among the brilliant university faculty and alumni have messed up the gene pool, and is the source of many health issues and birth defects in the community. It is known as the "price of elitism," as the interbreeding was meant to continue producing the nation's best and brightest.

At the same time, Max Kerkerian (Vincent Cassel), another police detective, is investigating the seemingly minor crime of a grave desecration in the town of Sarzac. Someone spray-painted a swastika on a mausoleum that contains the body of a ten year-old girl named Judith Herault, who was flattened by a truck twenty years ago.

But when Kerkerian discovers that Judith's former elementary school had been broken into and her records stolen, he ends up on the trail of something even bigger.

As luck would have it, the cases converge and Niemans and Kerkerian find themselves teaming up. But as more grisly murders occur, they begin realizing that the motive behind the killings points to a dark secret that leads right back to the university itself...

The Good: The Crimson Rivers has a great build-up, and the mystery is really interesting as we, the viewers, follow Jean Reno on his grisly quest. Vincent Cassell is very entertaining to watch as well, and the development of the separate storylines will keep you hooked. Overall, Mathieu Kassovitz directs a pretty intelligent thriller with a few well-timed scares to boot.

The French Alps provide some beautiful scenery, and many of the locations are simply breath-taking.

Although he does a solid job, this isn't one of Jean Reno's more spectacular roles. I have a theory that casting him in a French thriller automatically gives the film some sense of legitimacy, in the same way that casting Samuel L. Jackson as a supporting actor in an otherwise generic Hollywood action movie makes that flick somewhat more watchable (SWAT, Snakes on a Plane, Star Wars: Episodes 1-3).

Whereas Jackson's signature onscreen move is to get pissed off and shout "motherf*cker" out of anger/frustration, Jean Reno's trademark is to get pissed off and choke someone. Just an observation.

The Bad: Although The Crimson Rivers is not completely predictable, you can pretty much accurately guess who the killer's going to be before all the pieces fall into place. The final twist is a bit hokey too. The inevitable team-up between Vincent Cassell and Jean Reno, at times, contains elements of the cliched "cop buddy" formula. This takes the movie in a lighter direction, which doesn't seem to work given the intense mood of the film's first half.

Who would like this movie: You'll enjoy The Crimson Rivers if you like mystery/thrillers. Even if you're new to foreign films, this movie is pretty much mainstream, only it's in French. Overall, the suspense is good, the story's solid, but the ending is a little weak.

(2 and 1/2 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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