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With: Jean Reno, Vincent Cassel, Nadia Fares, Dominique Sanda, Karim Belkhadra, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Didier Flamand, François Levantal
Written by: Mathieu Kassovitz, Jean-Christophe Grangé, based on the novel by Jean-Christophe Grangé
Directed by: Mathieu Kassovitz
MPAA Rating: R for violence/grisly images and language
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 106
Date: 09/27/2000

The Crimson Rivers (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Le 'Die Hard'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If you think French films are snooty, you've gotta see this. Watching the new French thriller from Mathieu Kassovitz, the director of La Haine (Hate), feels oddly like watching a slick, stylish American thriller. I knew that the French had a serious yen for American movies, but this is ridiculous. We can easily tell that the lead role, played here by Jean Reno, would work just as well, if not better, with Bruce Willis.

The good news is that, for the most part, The Crimson Rivers is a good thriller with all the right thrills and all the right twists. And I'm sure that an American remake (with Bruce Willis) will be quickly on its way.

The story begins like any of the three dozen or so recent carbon copies of serial-killer movies (e.g., The Silence of the Lambs, Seven), with a bunch of guys in suits looking over an artfully murdered corpse. Some of the rookie cops turn away, holding their lurching stomachs, while the bolder, more stoic cops stare openly.

Reno plays the cool, investigating cop named Pierre Niemans who not only stares at the corpse, but finds its only clue. The carved-out eye sockets are filled with acid-rain water, even though there hasn't been any acid rain in decades.

Pierre also meets up with the woman who found the body, Fanny (Nadia Feres), a tough, sexy mountain climber. But even though she has an interesting resumé, it's the typical "girlfriend" role; she's only there for Pierre to ogle and make small talk with.

Meanwhile, a second cop, Max Kerkerian (Vincent Cassel, who provided the voice of Robin Hood in Shrek), investigates a routine incidence of vandalism. Someone has painted swastikas on a tomb and broken into a nearby school to steal records and photos from the early '80s.

This is where The Crimson Rivers distinguishes itself. The intertwining plotlines of the two men allow us to get to know them individually before they inevitably meet up and one assumes the usual "sidekick" role. As the two men uncover clue after clue, working from different directions, they suddenly both stumble upon the same clue and wind up at the same place.

Once the two cops team up (like Mel Gibson and Danny Glover), the movie kicks in with the American stuff; a sudden on-foot chase scene across the snow and ice when the cops discover the perp at the scene of the crime, and a mysterious black car that tries to run our heroes off the road for "knowing too much." Everything ends with an outrageous twist and a bombastic avalanche scene. This is all pretty dumb, but we're biting our nails through it nonetheless.

In fact, The Crimson Rivers verges so precariously on the edge of quality that I'm sure my imaginary American remake would plummet violently to an early death. It just goes to show that everything sounds better in French.

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