The first shot of a film can usually establish whether the director is in control of the production and the viewer can relax and enjoy the show.
The French film The Crimson Rivers is a prime example of this truism as director Matthieu Kassovitz, backed by brilliant cinematographer Thierry Arbogast and the powerful musical composition of Bruno Coulais, shows us a spectacular, yet bleak view of the French Alps and leads us on a thrilling and, often, gruesome hunt for a deranged killer of staff members at a remote University for France’s most gifted.
Big city commissioner Pierre Niemans (Jean Reno) has been relegated to the hinterlands to investigate the grisly death of an unidentified man near the Alpine university. Coincidently, nearby small town detective, Max Kerkerian (Vincent Cassel), is investigating the desecration of a grave of a young girl who died in a horrific car crash nearly 20 years earlier.
As each pursues his investigation and the body count rises, they are drawn together in the realization their cases are one and the same. The plot, ultimately, moves on to a conspiracy to use Nazi-style eugenics to create perfect humans from the University’s students.
Apparently, the director cut out some of the expository scenes to make the action move faster, e.g., we don't know why Niemans is out of favor. In fact, Vincent Cassel is quoted as having said, “I can't help explain the film because I didn't understand it!" Usually, I would find this a problem, but in this case, it works. Here, the audience is bonded with the two heroes in their frenetic effort to figure out what is happening and who is culpable before more mayhem occurs.
The Crimson Rivers had a heavy budget for a French thriller ($14 million), but made an outstanding $60 million, mostly in Europe, because viewers, like those at the MOMA screening, were bowled over by the thrilling ride taken by two great actors, the fabulous cinematography and heart-pounding music. It was a breathtaking experience!
As we discussed the plot, most audience members I talked with wanted, as I did, to visit the University of Guernon. Unfortunately, I discovered it doesn’t exist. The site used was part of an aeronautic research center. Oh, well…
If you enjoy good thrillers, you can see The Crimson Rivers on DVD.I give it a 4+ out of 5.