In case you were wondering if we’re going to recommend every Olivier Marchal, the answer is yes, yes we are. With two exceptions. Gangsters, his first movie is not that good and Borderline is a television movie that’s pretty hard to find. 36 Quai des Orfèvres is possibly Marchal’s best movie with great pacing and an intriguing story. This time, Daniel Auteuil plays a more believable and realistic character than in The Last Deadly Mission. Opposite of him, we have the legend of French cinema, Gérard Depardieu with an expectedly good performance. This is a gritty story of two head-strong members of the police force trying to catch a brutal gang of robbers.
Much of the story is based on real experiences both Marchal and Dominique Loiseau lived through during the eighties while they worked for the Marseille police. Their characters bend the law quite often and play really hard. Flawed, impulsive and struggling with rage or alcoholism, they feel authentic. The entire vibe is a throwback to a different time of policing, something quite common in French crime thrillers ever since the sixties. It seems that each new generation of directors fondly remembers a time where there was little oversight or control when it comes to policing. Until we end up in Demolition Man society.
A ruthless gang of criminals armed with heavy weapons keeps robbing armored cars leaving no witnesses or clues. The pressure on law enforcement officials keeps rising as the public demands arrests. Vrinks and Klein are two tough and relentless heads of two separate units tasked with this dangerous and complex mission. They will use every trick in the book to get on the trail of the robbers. With disastrous consequences.
The story may seem stereotypical and a bit contrived but there are enough twists and turns to make it engaging and entertaining. You kind of want to find out what’s going to happen and how the fuck Vrinks ended up in jail. We also get an opportunity to have a look at the inner workings of the Parisian police force. Apart from already mentioned grievances regarding the story, this is the other thing they didn’t get right. 36 Quai des Orfèvres never decides whether it’s a gritty and dark police drama or a flashy and action-filled thriller. Still, it’s a decent addition to our list of spunky French police thrillers.
Apart from Marchal’s movies MR 73, Les Lyonnais, Carbone and Bronx, I recommend you check out Michael Mann’s 1995 classic Heat. It was an obvious source of inspiration. L.627, a more cheerful but still authentic police thriller is also worth watching.