July 12, 2008

EMPIRE OF THE WOLVES (2005) - Jean Reno in action

(2005, France, L'Empire des Loups)

Partnership with the devil

This recent thriller was directed by Chris Nahon, who’s currently finishing work on the live-action Blood: The Last Vampire. I only recognised Jean Reno in the cast, but isn't that enough? Certainly it's an indication of something interesting, at least in French-language movies.

The movie starts off with two parallel storylines: Anna, a Parisian housewife, is suffering such a massive memory loss that she can't even recognise her husband's face. As her experimental therapy fails to get results, she secretly goes to an analyst, Mathilde, to try and unlock her past.

Meanwhile a young detective is investigating some very, very nasty serial murders of young Turkish 'illegals'. Because these rank as low priority with the homicide division, he resorts to consulting disgraced cop 'Shifty' Le Shiffre (Jean Reno), an expert on the Turkish underworld operating in France. Joining forces, the closer they get to the truth, the more danger they find themselves in. Shootouts, mystery assassins, exploding bath-houses... can they handle the truth, and what does it all have to do with the amnesiac Anna?

Reminiscent of The Bourne Identity, this is a rewarding, twisty thriller which gradually reveals its many mysteries. It's hard-edged too - as Anna tries to regain her memory we see horrific images of disfigured faces, better suited to a horror movie, and the serial killer sub-plot is similarly nasty.

Set in a Paris that's forever in the rain, the lush visuals and locations never overpower the story. The cast are uniformly excellent, and help sell the more ludicrous action. But what's with French films and women trapped on ledges in their underwear? Is it compulsory?

Although fast-moving and stylish, some scenes are undermined by an inappropriate choice of hardcore club tracks used for the score. The effect seems to be aiming just for excitement, even though the action is supposed to be shocking or dramatic.

Empire of the Wolves is recommended, and available in the UK and US on DVD, with English-dubbed dialogue as an option.

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