Sunday, April 8, 2012

Film Recommendation of the Week...

A Gang Story (Les Lyonnais)
Release Date November 30, 2011 (France).
Running Time 1 hour 42 minutes.
French w/English subtitles. 

The critics have pilloried this French gangster film as being formulaic, devoid of action and better suited to a made-for-television miniseries, which is why I never take reviews to heart when judging something as subjective as cinema. My opinion is it will go down as one of the unappreciated classics of the genre. When I read the reviews I was hesitant to watch it, but once I got into it I wound up appreciating everything about it. This is really two stories in one, and the seamless back-and-forth through time is done with exceptional skill.

The film begins with a glimpse into the life of a retired grand lion in winter, Edmond “Momon” Vidal (played by the dashing and charismatic Gérard Lanvin), co-founder and survivor of the legendary real-life "Gang de Lyonais" that terrorized France throughout the 1970's with some of the most daring armed robberies in the annals of organized crime. During a celebration at his tastefully post-modern home, Momon has gotten word that his best friend from youth and fellow ex-gang member Serge (played by Olivier Chantreau) has been captured after many years on the run by the same cop who helped take the gang down in the first place.

There is one overriding concern for Mormon-what if Serge flips in prison and gives up information he doesn't want the cops to know? Does Mormon then decide to have him murdered in prison, does he bribe the guards to make his life more comfortable, or do they hatch a plot to get his old friend out? Mormon, out of loyalty to his friend and dedication to the mantra "honor among thieves", plans an audacious escape plan that works, with tragic results. But the past, as per usual, comes back to haunt both Mormon, Serge and the policeman who's been on Serge's trail all these years.

Two pressing issues intertwine immedialtey after Serge is busted out of captivity-Serge is being chased by two opposing factions-the cops, who want him back in prison, and the Spanish gangsters that Serge has stiffed out of some unknown but apparently large sum of money while he was dealing in narcotics in Spain, where he was hiding out the whole time the French police were looking for him. Mormon is concerned that Serge isn't coming completely clean about his dealing with the Spaniards, and winds up gets caught in the middle while the cops threaten his present lifestyle of the suave and debonair retiree and the Spanish drug dealers sending hitmen to take out what remains of Serge's family, who Mormon now must find a way to protect.

The Lyonnais Gang in their '70s Heyday-
The flashbacks to their days as an organized gang are juxtaposed brilliantly with the present days' action. I highly recommend this film and gladly state that the critics have gotten this one totally wrong. Not only is the plotline engrossing, the cinematography is superb. Forget the critics and go check this one out. You will not be sorry.

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