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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Palouzi: I want Massina. And you're part of the plan, that's all.
DVD ReviewInformed by such American television shows as Starsky and Hutch, La Balance is, according to Richard Maynard, a "classic French policier." Rightfully so. It refreshingly manages to go beyond the standard buddy cop picture, depicting its stool pigeon focus as a tragic hero in the most minimal sense. In a neon-drenched, sex shop populated world where rules are bent and broken by both sides of the law with causal ease, this is a noteworthy title for anyone, especially a criminal.
Two cops are on the prowl, looking for their next mark: Detectives Palouzi (Richard Berry) and Tintin (Christophe Malavoy) are smooth talking, witty policemen who aren't afraid to ruffle some feathers to find their man. Their most valuable informer has just been murdered, destroying their chance of nailing one of Belleville's many notorious crime lords, Roger Massina (Maurice Ronet). Massina is the crafty, treacherous, yet cultured type, finding bliss in stealing fine art and tasting rare Arab dishes. The cops need a new man, and a perfect candidate has arrived.
He is Dédé (Phillipe Léotard), a former confidant of Massina. Where Starsky and Hutch took a comedic tone with its informants, here the snitch is a tragic figure, though the filmmakers do not want us to exonerate him of past guilt. Through a relentless series of arrests and interrogations of both Dédé and his treasured prostitute girlfriend Nicole (Nathalie Baye), he is eventually convinced to turn rat. Nicole is usually one step ahead of the cops, making false promises to inform before Dédé is finally broken. They are a tortured couple who is truly in love. They would like nothing more than to forget the mistakes of the past and live happily, but dirty laundry does not wash itself.
Dédé agrees to set up an art heist to trap Massina, but the eventual ambush does not go according to plan. Palouzi is one of the architects of the setup, which is filled with bold strokes "just like the movies." His partner tells him he should have been a movie director. Palouzi (or the art director) certainly has a passion for cinema, populating his office with movie posters from such '70s classics as Bullitt, Alien, Dirty Harry and of course, Star Wars. But this is real life to Palouzi, and he is not Steve McQueen. His plot thickens before the tale ends, resulting in tragic violence and bitter confrontation. Victory is not without its price.
The film's title refers to the French term for informer, and this piece finds its heart in such a figure. Dédé is ultimately the main focus of this well conceived thriller, and Leotard manages to exude the proper disdain and guilt of a criminal, yet a desire to right his ways for love, but at what cost? Nathalie Baye also delivers a solid performance as the sharp, intelligent prostitute who gives Palouzi a run for his crimefighting money. Richard Berry is appropriately charismatic and slick as Palouzi, creating a memorable character that becomes attached to Nicole's headstrong personalityÑa sort of thinking man's Popeye Doyle.
Director Bob Swain manages to produce a gritty crime drama from the layered script. Utilizing handheld, documentary style camera work, we are thrust in at street level. Chases and shootouts approach Keystone Cops proportions at one point, but are well executed. This is nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking by any means, but is a solid, entertaining crime drama. Peppered by a poppy post-disco theme song, and a score culled from any episode of CHiPs, all we're missing is Ponch and Jon. No, we're not. I love that old motorcycle policier but this one is better off without them.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Home Vision's anamorphic 1.66:1 transfer exhibits good detail and a smattering of fine grain, giving the image a nice filmic look. There are no PAL to NTSC "jaggies" to be found. Colors are appropriately muted, and contrast is decent with rich blacks. The picture's detail can become soft on some wider shots. Regardless, nicely done.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: The French monaural audio is spread across the left and right channels, and contains usually clear, but occasionally muffled dialogue and minimal hiss. Bass extension is surprisingly good, reinforcing the score nicely. At times, the recording can sound a bit hollow or tinny.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsThis classic French crime drama is given a quality treatment by Home Vision. Clearly inspired by some of America's most popular police television programs of the '70s, Bob Swain's film is gritty and layered. A satisfying ride with real character.
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