For the Region 1 DVD release of Crimson Rivers (Les rivieres pourpres), Columbia ported over the French language extras that intimately traced the film's development from novel to finished film. The logic of Pourpres' already convoluted story was further aggravated by budget cuts & production problems, although, as evidenced from the interviews in that DVD's 45 min. documentary, both the film's director and actors were determined to preserve the brutality, mood, and mystery of Jean-Christophe Grangé's novel.
Pourpres was a major page-turner, and the author made it a point to periodically pause and remind readers as to what the heck was going on before switching to the next narrative thread. Grangé's dual storylines - a sadistic series of killings, and an insular town's dark secret - brought forth a common clue, and forced both investigating detectives to team up and solve the blood-soaked riddles.
L'Empire des loups was also based on a novel by Grangé, and similarly employs dual threads for a wildly commercial story; integrating another cultural collision that begets more secret codes, dangerous associations, and nasty sadism. The red herring this time is a serial killer wanted for a trio of torture-killings, and while that hook is ultimately resolved in the film's ridiculous final scene, the brackish mush that's packed in-between is clearly the work of four credited writers trying to make sense of what's essentially a revenge saga gone epic, operatic, and mock-Hollywood.
Part of the problem stems from tonal shifts throughout this extraordinarily photogenic film. Cinematographer Michel Abramowicz maximizes the portraiture of the 'scope ratio for the grungy Parisian underground, the sterile and moderne medical and lavatory sets, and the Turkish locations for the film's denouement, but unlike Crimson Rivers, Empire begins as a horror tale, veers into a spy actioner, lurches back and renews itself as a crime thriller, and then hastily leaps over to Turkey for a cops & robbers mountain battle (with inexplicable English dialogue between French and Turkish assault teams, as they route a mystical clan of unflattering Turkish caricatures from their cavernous air).
Empire 's first two reels are stunning, noirish mood pieces, and the heroine's realization of some serious deceit should have set up a marvelous mystery-thriller; instead, elements of La Femme Nikita alter events, and not dissimilar from the Luc Besson-penned Crimson Rivers 2 (best characterized as Indiana Jones meets Super Ninja Monks), Empire evokes too many kissing cousin genres, and elongate the inevitable narrative collision before offering up little of substance. What keeps one's interest, however, are the strong performances by the film's two actresses: Laura Morante as the sympathetic head-shrink, and Arly Jover as the traumatized heroine. (Previously cast in a series of low-flying American productions, including the direct-to-video sequel Vampires: Los Muertos, Empire gives Jover's character a familiar Nikita arc, but she pulls it off with total believability.)
Among the film's top-level talent, director Chris Nahon's not the flaw here; Empire suffers from an over-worked script, and none of the eight credited composers help matters through their pastiche of half-successful/mostly unsuitable cues that share little beyond heavy bass. Sony's transfer is sharp and attractive, but it's a shame the same level of extras that benefited Crimson Rivers aren't present on this release; they may not have helped a muddled film, but having Grangé explain his scenario would've added some needed contrast. (A French Region 2 edition boasts 3 discs : Disc 1 includes a commentary track from director Nahon, cinematographer Abramowicz, and actress Arly Jover; Disc 2 has numerous making-of docs and a Grangé appreciation; and a dual-sided Disc 3 has another doc, and the pot-pourris soundtrack album on the B-side.)
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan