Reviewed by: Adam Micklethwaite

Rivals brings a welcome opportunity for further collaboration between two heavyweights of contemporary French cinema, Guillaume Canet and François Cluzet, following hard on the heels of 2007’s relentlessly gripping, high-octane thriller Tell No One. This film, however, is a very different animal – an intriguing Seventies cop drama at the centre of which lies a tale of fraternal conflict between two brothers on opposite sides of the thin blue line.

Canet plays hard-working police inspector François, whilst Cluzet is perfectly cast as his wayward brother Gabriel who, when the film begins, has just been released from prison following a ten-year incarceration for murder. With his brother’s reluctant help, Gabriel attempts to put his past behind him and keep on the right side of the law, getting a job in the local supermarket and attempting to start up a business with his friend who is also an ex-con.

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However, as anyone who’s ever seen a crime drama will be only too aware, ‘going straight’ is never easy and Gabriel’s efforts prove to be no exception. Meanwhile, François (Cluzet) has problems of his own. Having acted on his obsessive passion for the wife of a man he put behind bars, he must face the consequences of his actions when the husband is finally released, while also trying to extricate himself from the increasingly questionable activities of his brother, which bring him into conflict with the forces of law and order that he represents. As events move towards their dénouement, the brothers must decide exactly where their loyalties lie, unaware of how their fates are entwined.

A word of warning to those viewers seeking a Hollywood police thriller with big budget explosions and ultra slick action sequences: this is not an action flick. The long arm of the law is used merely as the backdrop and dividing line in a dramatic tale of two brothers whose lives have followed different paths. The violence is not overly stylised and the film’s greatest strength is its grounding in reality, with an extremely effective evocation of time, place and character. Set in the French city of Lyon in 1979, this is a film which owes much to the great police dramas of the 1970s as Jacques Maillot’s direction persuasively recreates the era, continually underpinned by an excellent score from Stépan Oliva.

The characters are very believable from the start and the acting is superb, with some excellent performances from the supporting cast and a standout from Cluzet, who perfectly encapsulates the contradictions inherent within the character of Gabriel. What makes his performance so convincing is that we can simultaneously believe he is a loving brother, a loving son and a loving boyfriend to his new flame Nathalie (Marie Denarnaud), while also being capable of cold-blooded murder, callous womanising and prostituting his ex-wife. There is no easy way to reconcile these contradictions, but that is what makes the progression of his character so intriguing. At times it seems his selfishness is absolute and yet there are several moments in the film when his principled behaviour and sense of filial loyalty are genuinely overwhelming. Canet is also on top form as the troubled younger brother François, consumed by his passion for another man’s wife, simultaneously in awe of and infuriated by his brother, and increasingly disillusioned with the police force that he represents.

Rivals takes a refreshingly ‘un-Hollywood’ approach to the police drama, which is all the more potent for its refusal to sacrifice plot on the altar of action. At times this film may be something of a slow burner, but is nevertheless a very rewarding viewing experience.

Reviewed on: 05 Oct 2008
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Rivals packshot
Brothers on the right and wrong side of law enforcement come into conflict.

Director: Jacques Maillot

Writer: Pierre Chosson, Jacques Maillot, Eric Veniard, based on the novel by Michel Papet, Bruno Papet

Starring: Guillaume Canet, François Cluzet, Marie Denarnaud, Clotilde Hesme, Mehdi Nebbou, Hélène Foubert, Eric Bonicatto, Olivier Perrier, Carole Franck, Luc Thuillier

Year: 2008

Runtime: 106 minutes

Country: France


CFF 2008

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