“The Crimson Rivers has almost everything it takes to be a first-rate thriller…all it lacks is a satisfying ending.”
The Crimson Rivers has almost everything it takes to be a first-rate thriller. It takes place in a suitably eerie, remote valley. Plenty of creepy shadows permeate its otherwise lush cinematography. It features a goosebump-inducing score. And, with plenty of gory murders and dead-end clues, it certainly keeps you guessing. In fact, all it lacks is a satisfying ending. Instead, its effectively executed elements lead up to an improbable showdown and an illogical conclusion that completely diminish what the first three-quarters of the film have achieved. In other words, you’ll still be guessing long after the movie is over.
In an isolated valley in France, a mutilated body is found. Veteran detective Pierre Niémans (Jean Reno) begins an increasingly bizarre investigation at an unusual college campus. Meanwhile, miles away, rebellious cop Max Kerkerian (Vincent Cassel) probes a hate crime. Naturally, it’s only a matter of time before these two seemingly unrelated cases are linked and the two very different cops are forced to team up.
The “old cop/young cop” set-up is nothing new, but director Mathieu Kassovitz reinvigorates it, creating the right tone for this quasi-supernatural mystery. From the beginning, the film is filled with a pervasive feeling of gloom and dread. As the hunt for clues takes the cops trekking through glaciers and on wild goose chases in medical labs and convents, deftly handled lighter scenes allow for brief moments of audience exhalation.
Jean Reno is fantastic as the crotchety Niémans. Anyone who’s seen The Professional or La Femme Nikita has witnessed Reno’s remarkable ability to infuse even the gruffest of characters with humor and sensitivity. He’s right on target here as a detective set in his ways who’s obliged to rely on someone else. Famed French actor Vincent Cassel (seen previously in Elizabeth and Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc) holds his own quite nicely against Reno. His Max Kerkerian is cocky and impulsive, as fits the scenario, yet wholly appealing. Together, they bring the perfect combination of gravity and levity (and sex appeal!) to the proceedings.
All great cinematic thrillers succeed by engaging the audience. By parceling out miniscule clues and offering unexpected twists and turns, viewers are allowed to draw their own conclusions before learning the truth in the end. The Crimson Rivers weaves its elements together beautifully only to quickly unravel in the final moments. Ultimately, things become so over-the-top you’ll be left scratching your head and feeling cheated for putting as much thought into the whole thing as you did.