From the opening sequence of 36 Quai des Orfèvres that shows intercutting parallel sequences between a band of thugs who break into a bar and physically abuse the proprietress and a pair of vandals who pry off a street placard and subsequently emerge in the private room of a bar with other drunken, trigger-happy carousers, Olivier Marchal establishes the film’s overarching moral ambiguity and blurred delineation between criminals and undercover police. Ostensibly a professional (and inferentially personal) competition between two seasoned law enforcement agency lead investigators Denis Klein (Gérard Depardieu) and Léo Vrinks (Daniel Auteuil) as they try to apprehend the perpetrators responsible for a string of boldly executed, daytime armored car robberies by any means possible in order to secure a promotion to commissioner, the rivalry soon escalates into a protracted, acrimonious, and increasingly reckless and unethical power struggle for professional validation, glory, and revenge. Drawing inspiration from the filmmaker’s former career in law enforcement as well as a beloved national cinema legacy of atmospheric and highly stylized crime thrillers (that include such eminent filmmakers such as Louis Feuillade, Jean-Pierre Melville, and Henri-Georges Clouzot), 36 Quai des Orfèvres is an accomplished and entertaining film that is bolstered by the impeccable performances of a strong lead and supporting cast that, nevertheless, ultimately suffers from an overly contrived, conveniently structured, and tidy resolution (in particular, an extraneous, tangential subplot that could only have served to set up a set of conditions in place for the inevitable outcome).
© Acquarello 2005. All rights reserved.