The Crimson Rivers (2000) / Thriller-Mystery

MPAA Rated: R for violence/grisly images and language
Running Time: 106 min.

Cast: Jean Reno, Vincent Cassel, Nadia Fares, Dominique Sanda, Karim Belkhadra
Director:  Matthieu Kassovitz
Screenplay: Jean-Christophe Grange (based on his book), Matthieu Kassovitz

Review published June 29, 2001

While there are some viewers who may like The Crimson Rivers (the French title is Les Rivieres Pourpres) for its very dark subject matter and the director's energetic, sweeping style, it doesn't make the mystery of the film's killer any less ineptly handled.  There are many clues strewn about, and unless you are relieving yourself every five minutes when another obvious clue pops up, you'll have figured out the entire ending long before the film reaches it, including the manner in which the killer will go down.  The script, co-written by the director (Kassovitz, Gothika) and Jean-Cristophe Grange (Empire of the Wolves, Vidocq), who adapts it from his novel, tries to have a surprise in store for those who are sure who the killer is, but even the "unexpected" revelation is also telegraphed and expected well before you get to the final confrontation.

Jean Reno (Ronin, Godzilla) plays Pierre Niemans, a very popular and well-respected policeman sent to investigate a grisly murder near a college up in the remote mountains of France.  Vincent Cassel (Elizabeth, Brotherhood of the Wolf) plays a hot-shot cop trying to crack down on some skinheads for the desecration of a young girl's grave.  Although working separately, both paths converge and they find themselves working together to solve the ultimate mystery as to why, but in the meantime the killer is still on the loose and committing more murders.

The Crimson Rivers is a thriller in the dark and gory style of The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, and definitely may turn off many viewers with it's graphic subject matter.  The opening credits of the film are displayed while a camera shoots extreme close-up sweeps around a dead body which is currently being consumed by maggots and other bugs, and this should give you an indication of how unflinching the rest of the film is in the showcasing of disturbing acts of violence.

However, even if you can stomach the gore, The Crimson Rivers is too far-fetched to believe the contrivances, too clichéd to be interested in the main investigation, and too ham-handed in it's delivery of the suspense.  While one may admire the attempts by Kassovitz (who played coincidentally played the love interest in Amelie) to deliver a sense of style to the film, and is effective at achieving a dark atmosphere, this style also gets in the way of many scenes, making the tone seem unfit to the rest of the film.  One such scene occurs when Cassel interrogates the skinheads he feels responsible for upsetting the gravesite, and his fight with one of them is played out to the sound of a nearby videogame, a 3-D martial arts fighter.  While it's a clever scene and does evoke laughs, it's the wrong kind of movie for it to have been introduced, and only serves to make things seem ridiculous as a result.

If you like large doses of stylish camerawork and gruesome shots of dismembered bodies, you will probably be entertained by The Crimson Rivers much more than I had been.  However, those viewers looking for a good suspense film that breaks new ground will be very disappointed by the unrealistic set-up and poor delivery.  The director and cast get an A for effort, but The Crimson Rivers gets a shameful scarlet letter F for results.

Qwipster's rating:

©2002 Vince Leo