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The Crimson Rivers (February 23/02)

The Crimson Rivers features a plot so complex, so convoluted, it makes Memento look like a Garry Marshall film.

Jean Reno stars as a grizzled and seasoned cop sent to a small village on the outskirts of Paris to investigate a killing. The crime: A young man has been brutally murdered (he was tortured for several hours before he finally died) and his corpse has been left in a fashion that provokes the local police into believing a serial killer may be responsible. Once Reno starts digging, he discovers that the victim hails from a completely enclosed college - one that relies on the outside world for nothing. After hooking up with a woman that studies avalanches (it's plausible in the context of the flick, I promise), he finds out that the school is suffering from rampant inbreeding. On the flipside, there's a local cop (Vincent Cassel) investigating a seemingly unrelated manner involving the desecration of a mausoleum. It goes without saying that the cases aren't as separate as initially suspected, and the two very different cops become reluctant partners.

Filmed with extreme gusto by Mathieu Kassovitz, The Crimson Rivers is a silly but immensely entertaining little thriller. Kassovitz's claim to fame is a gritty film called La Haine, which detailed the tough life amongst poor youths in France's seedy underbelly. Like that movie, he infuses many sequences with bravura camerawork - which, in this case, elevates the bizarre storyline and prevents the movie from becoming an all-out mess. This is certainly one of those cases where the direction and acting are far better than the script.

Not that the script is all that awful, really; it's just incredibly weird. There's not too many flicks that feature twins switched at birth and genetic experiments involving clones - and expect to be taken seriously. But put those bizarre elements in the context of a thriller, and it works on a visceral level. Add to the mix some stunningly gorgeous locales, and you've got an effective (if confusing) thriller.

Another thing this flick's got going for it are the performances of Reno and Cassel. Reno, best known to American audiences as that French guy from Godzilla, turns in yet another stellar performance as the bitter and jaded cop. Likewise, as the rough and tumble newbie thrown into the mix, Cassel brings a sense of lit-fuse urgency to the role.

The Crimson Rivers may take a few viewings to really figure out what the heck the denouement meant, but even if you only watch it once, this stylish thriller delivers.

out of

© David Nusair