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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Crimson Rivers (2000)

Captain Dahmane: You alone? I told them I needed help on a homicide. I meant a squad.
Pierre Niemans: I am the squad.

- Karim Belkhadra, Jean Reno

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: October 25, 2001

Stars: Jean Reno, Vincent Cassel
Other Stars: Nadia Far╦s, Dominique Sanda, Karim Belkhadra
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz

MPAA Rating: R for (violence, grisly images and language)
Run Time: 01h:45m:40s
Release Date: October 16, 2001
UPC: 043396065932
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+A-A- B

DVD Review

After seeing this compelling and dark thriller, I am eagerly anticipating the next release by French director Mathieu Kassovitz. Les Rivi╦res Pourpres (2000), or The Crimson Rivers as it is known domestically, is a liberal mix of the serial killer and action genres, and Kassovitz meshes the two together very effectively. This film contains some extremely startling and grisly imagery that immediately brought to mind such disturbing masterpieces as The Silence Of The Lambs and Se7en, to say nothing of the overall grim tone that is so prevalent. The storyline in The Crimson Rivers is clever enough to stand alone, but Kassovitz, best known for the 1995 gang film La Haine, along with the distinctive cinematography of Thierry Arbogast (L╚on, The Fifth Element, Messenger: The Story Of Joan Of Arc), have given this film a rich, expansive visual style as well.

The Crimson Rivers is set in a small, picturesque French village, nestled in a valley at the base of the foreboding and rugged Alps. A body has been discovered high in the mountains, hands cut off and eyes removed; a victim of an apparent serial killer. Inspector Pierre Niemans (Jean Reno) has been sent from Paris to investigate and assist the local constabulary due to the excessively violent nature of the crime. The victim was a staffer at the local university, which itself is a mysterious and secretive entity that has become an almost isolated enclave, where professors and their children exist in almost complete seclusion. Simultaneously 180 miles away, local police officer Max Kerkerian (Vincent Cassel) is assigned to a pair of seemingly unrelated crimes: a cemetery desecration of a young girl's tomb who died twenty years earlier and a grade school break-in. Niemans and Kerkerian eventually find themselves crossing investigative paths, as a common thread between their cases is uncovered, and the two find themselves teaming up to go against a genuinely frightening and dangerous adversary.

Renowned cinematographer Thierry Arbogast has generated another haunting collection of visuals throughout The Crimson Rivers, and his technique is really something. The villages of Guernon and Sarzac are quaint and ornate, in a beautiful Old World sort of way, and perfectly resemble what I imagine a small French village to be like. The gruesome and dark imagery that erupts seems all the more uncomfortable when seen within the context of such architectural beauty. Arbogast constantly stages a number of dramatic visual sequences that take ordinary environments and transform them into powerful canvases. The university, a massive, self-contained complex, seems to constantly swallow up Niemans as Arbogast uses long, sweeping, overhead panoramic shots to convey its undeniable power. During the discovery of yet another victim of the killer late in the film, Arbogast blends deep shadows and flashes of lightning to create a very haunting tableau that rivals David Fincher's and Darius Khondji's memorable work in Se7en.

The macabre screenplay by Kassovitz and Jean-Christophe Grang╚ (from his novel Red Blood Rivers) delivers an eerie and thrilling storyline that is dramatically augmented by the powerful cinematography. It is difficult to imagine The Crimson Rivers as being quite so hard-hitting without the stellar visual stylings of Arbogast, but the Kassovitz-Grang╚ screenplay weighs in almost as solidly. Not content to simply tell the story of the hunt for a violent killer, Kassovitz's film eventually erupts into the revelation of a far more horrifying secret. With more than enough clever and rather unexpected twists, I found this tale to be much more intricate and layered than is typical of your average serial killer film, with the exception perhaps of a sadly out of place fight sequence between Kerkerian and a skinhead, and possibly some elements of the Vertical Limit-induced action sequence finale.

Kassovitz has anchored his film with two strong performances from Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel. I can't say enough great things about the acting of Reno. With his low, monotone rumble and his uncharacteristic leading man features, he excels in roles where he portrays a weary, frustrated character driven to extremes, much as he did in L╚on. His facial expressions may not seem to vary much, but his eyes reveal how intently the mind of Niemans is working as he struggles to unravel the identity of the killer. Reno's performance, as usual, is first-rate. Vincent Cassel, who starred in Kassovitz's La Haine, is the polar opposite of his counterpart here. His character is a frenetic, unconventional investigator, and this makes for a nice contrast between the two leads. Cassel, while acting in the shadows of Reno, gives an equally nice turn as the fast talking, wise-cracking Kerkerian. While there is quite a bit of entertaining banter back and forth between the two mismatched characters as their investigation proceeds, both actors manage to wisely avoid the obvious pitfalls of turning The Crimson Rivers into a dreaded predictable "buddy" picture.

This film is very impressive, in both visual style and dramatic content. Even the title sequence is a wonderfully disturbing and uncomfortable little treat. A couple of thematically inconsistent sequences do not detract from the overall impact, and even with those slight imperfections, The Crimson Rivers delivers as an unusual and exciting suspense thriller.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Columbia TriStar has released this disc in an almost flawless 2.35:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer. I noticed nothing in the way of physical blemishes or grain. Color field is well-balanced, with strong, natural flesh tones. Much of the look of The Crimson Rivers is very cold, almost clinical, with a range of locations set in colors that reinforce the almost death-like pall that exists here. Kassovitz and Arbogast are also able to generate a rich, more robust palette during the sequence on the mountain, near the film's climax, where colors are bright and crisp. In contrast, the interior shots, especially at the university, are bathed in deep shadows that comes across very sharp on DVD. Shadow delineation and black levels have excellent depth, and provide a generally murk-free image during the darker scenes. The scene were Kerkerian visits the convent, where the mysterious Sister Andre╚ (Dominique Sanda) has taken a "vow of darkness," is a fine example of Arbogast's manipulation of shadow and minimal lighting. Compression artifacts are virtually undetectable.

This is a thing of beauty.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno
Dolby Digital
English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Columbia TriStar has really gone the extra mile on the audio transfer. A pair of stunning 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes, in original French and dubbed English, are critical additions to the viewing experience. Often it is the original foreign track that suffers on the transfer of a domestic release, with the Dolby Digital treatment generally given only to the English track. Both mixes sound rich and full, and make excellent use of all channels to create a strong, enveloping sound field. Helicopters, cars, ambient sounds cues, and especially Bruno Coulais' eerie score are showcased in a pair of solid 5.1 audio tracks that feature strong directional imaging.

The 2.0 English Surround mix is adequate, but a mere shell of the dynamic range of Dolby Digital 5.1.

If you dread subtitles, don't despair. The English-dubbed track, while only minorly distracting at times, is one of the better I've come across, and most importantly does feature Jean Reno dubbing his own distinctive voice, which adds a lot to setting tone. I'm not certain which of the other actors in the film provided their own English dubs, but all of the voices sound natural and seem to match perfectly. Even in English, the cast speak with thick French accents, which also adds to the realism, considering the locale. Sometimes the accents are so thick that I had to use the English subtitles, which were often dramatically different than what was being spoken in English. I'm not well-versed in French (read: at all) to determine where the weak link in the translation is.

Very nice. Kudos to Columbia TriStar.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Mathieu Kassovitz
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: This disc features a couple of solid extras, and one that is there but unusable unless you speak French. Unfortunately the commentary track, which I was really looking forward to, with Kassovitz and cast is in French, with no subtitles.

(NOTE: CTHE has informed us that this issue is currently being fixed and that "an exchange opportunity" will occur. Details forthcoming. -Ed.)

The Investigation
This is a better-than-average 50-minute making-of documentary, featuring interviews with all of the primary cast and crew. I found this piece to be very frank and open about some of the production issues, and did not degenerate into a simple happy-talk fest. Like the commentary, this too is in French, but English subtitles are available.

Post Mortem
This is essentially a storyboard comparison, broken down into three featurettes, of three key scenes in the film: the corpse, the car chase and the mountain sequence. Comments, interviews and production footage, again in French with available English subtitles, offer some a wealth of solid information on some of the visual elements that made this film so memorable.

Rounding out the extras are a 2.35:1 widescreen trailer, in French (no subtitles), 28 chapter stops, filmographies and the requisite English and French subtitles.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Simply put, The Crimson Rivers is dark, grisly and suspenseful. Jean Reno provides yet another great performance here, and director Mathieu Kassovitz has created a memorable new entry into the world of cinematic serial killers. I have no qualms whatsoever with ranking this film in the league of Se7en and The Silence Of The Lambs. The commentary track is unfortunately (for me, at least) in French (See the Editor's NOTE in the Extras section), but Columbia TriStar has layered this release with a respectable number of additional supplements, and an audio and image transfer that make this disc certainly worthy of consideration.

Highly recommended.


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