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The Crimson Rivers (Les Rivières pourpres)

DVD Four Stars

Crimson Rivers, or Les Rivières pourpres, attracted me for two reasons, one was Jean Reno and the other was Vincent Cassell. Although I knew of Cassell at the time I really didn't know of his acting ability, that came later with a viewing of Irreversible.

The chance of seeing these two great French actors together was very alluring, but when it is packaged in a highly regarded thriller then I couldn't say no. Now I would recommend this film to anyone, before Hollywood finds it and considers remaking it.

Crimson Rivers stars these two great French actors as cops on the trail of seemingly different crimes. Reno is the cop investigating a series of murders which are becoming more and more intriguing, while Cassell's case is much smaller and starts with the defacing of a grave site, possibly by a local group of Neo-Nazis.

Slowly the case opens up for Reno, and Cassell teams up with him as the two begin to seem relevant. However neither is prepared for how big the conspiracy really is and just how bizarre it is all going to become.

The opening of the film is very powerful, even the credits themselves are fascinating to watch as they slowly reveal what the characters, and the audience, are going to find in the first few scenes.

Indeed these lead to an autopsy scene which I think contains the most convincing and disturbing view of a dead body I've ever seen. It's an excellently filmed scene and builds tension and suspicion throughout.

That's something about this film, it's a strong attacking thriller, never really allowing you a chance to try and catch up or a moment to ponder and evaluate your own ideas of what's happening. The affect this has is that you are pretty much along for the ride with the characters and never too far ahead of them in their investigation.

The script doesn't give you anything, like the Reno character it leads you onto each scene and discovery without stopping to recap or to tell you what's happening. You see what the character sees and the whole story unfolds as he sees it.

This is one of the great strengths of the film. There's no Hollywood hand holding here, no being guided through the plot and getting an extra heads up over the characters you are being pulled into. This is one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much.

Reno and Cassell are superb in their roles, Reno as the quieter, more experienced cop and Cassell taking the louder and more direct approach. This is apparent quite early on as we see Reno observing and pondering, while Cassell gets hands on with the Neo-Nazi's in one of the best fight sequences I've seen outside of an martial arts choreographed scene. It also provides a great moment of humour.

Cassell enters the room where one of the gang is playing Tekken, the insults and accusations fly and in a few moments they face off to each other. "Round Two" is head from the console behind the camera and the music begins, the real life fight is underway and the whole thing feels like a real life Tekken fight.

The action here is amazing, especially considering Cassell trained for this and ramped up the fighting with his co-star. So much so that there were a few real hits landed, but they kept going anyway.

Not all the action is as well handled though, often the scenes are harshly edited and create a little confusion as to what character is doing what to whom and where. Yes, almost as confusing as reading that.

There are a couple of uses of the push-pull effects in the camera work that seem out of place, and a couple of out of focus moments which seem rather odd. However they only last a few seconds and are quickly forgotten about. All in all the camera work and the style of the film are very good and compliment the script and the characters.

When you listen to the audio commentary later on you realise just how clever some of the filming and set design really is.

There are some minute details in the scenes which you hardly pick up on until you are told, details that suggest something at the time but you're not fully aware of it. One such a moment regards the floor tiling in an otherwise inconspicuous hallway, connecting the location and the characters in it to previous events.

Perhaps the best set designs are in a couple of the murder sets themselves, the opening sequences is perhaps the best, but the scene with the doctor later on looks very convincing and unnerving.

The locations chosen for filming are also superb and provide a great backdrop for the film. The village, the University, the sports field at night in the snow, the glacier, and the opening forest scenes, each seems to have been specifically chosen and add to the production values.

An interesting thing happened when the murder was revealed, the effect I felt was not a great surprise or shock, I was immediately focussed on the reasons why. Afterwards I found this very interesting, the script didn't have me hanging on the reveal of the character but of the conspiracy behind it, and I found that very powerful and clever indeed.

However, after this point there is a slight change in the feel of the film as it seems to let up on keeping you running with the characters. Instead of having to keep with the story it feels like you are suddenly stopped and gazing around looking as confused as the characters are. Here the great pace and style of the thriller lets up.

With great sets, strong filming, a superb script and Reno and Cassell providing some excellent performances, this is a very strong thriller indeed. There's some great cinematography to be seen which just enhances the story even further.


Presented: DD 2.0
Something which doesn't happen enough in DVD is the use of all the speakers in a home cinema, but with Crimson Rivers this is not the case. The audio is often around you and the location brought to life through the use of the rear speakers. The avalanche scene is very consuming with the audio crushing you from all around.


Presented: 1.85:1 Anamorphic
The excellent locations, strong production values and excellent cinematography make this a very visual film and the picture compliments all of these well.


Presented: Audio Commentary, Isolated Score Commentary,
Audio Commentary
The audio commentary is perhaps best listened to if you understand French, although there are subtitles provided it does become quite hard to follow when two or more people start talking together and over each other and the single coloured subtitles race to keep up.

However the commentary is very interesting and informative about the film and the experiences on set. They cover everything from the lighting to the acting. There is an interesting influence noted from the film to Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Isolated Score Commentary
This is perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the DVD, although it really is for films of cinema. Bruno Coulais talks about the score itself and how it works with the film. It isn't a steady stream of commentary, and there are some times where you're wondering if he will come back, but he does and provides some interesting information.

They used a system to record directly to 5.1 making the spatial aspects of the orchestration very much a part of the composing and playing, something which contributed to the great use of audio on the package.

He talks with great passion about how the score is put together to match the scenes of the film. He loves 5.1 and the audio opportunities this offers, sound is about vibration too, not just the music.

He believes that the score shouldn't overpower a scene as the music should be there to reflect what is happening on screen and compliment it. He also says that the score in isolation is not as good as with the images, therefore he often likes to rework the score for the CD release.


Crimson Rivers is a superb thriller with strong performances from two great actors and superb cinematography. I'm really surprised this hasn't been scheduled for a Hollywood remake. Well worth watching.
The Crimson Rivers,Jean Reno,Vincent Cassell

UK IMDB Film Details
The Crimson Rivers on /




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