If I asked you to imagine how would a gritty French crime movie would look like, you would probably imagine Les Lyonnais. Incredibly stylish and authentic, this is a movie based on the life of a real gangster Edmond Vidal played masterfully by Gérard Lanvin. His commanding presence, undeniable suave, and imposing physique make Les Lyonnais come together as the storytelling is somewhat disjointed. We jump from past to present in an effort to build a picture of Vidals’ life story a little too quickly. Add to this somewhat cliched scenes and the problems keep mounting for this ambitious movie. It feels like they’re just going through the motions in order to daze the viewer with genuinely interesting real events. Still, this is a movie full of suspense, betrayals, and twists that should keep you engaged throughout.
After two much better movies, 36 Quai des Orfèvres and MR 73, Olivier Marchal, an ex-cop turned director decided to tell a story from the other side of the law. The story is set in a time when criminals had a code and when things worked differently than nowadays. A time when police used, let’s say, unorthodox methods to get the convictions. Vidal’s autobiography “Pour Une Poignée de Cerises” served as source material and we learn how he rose to the top from humble beginnings. Unlike some of his other movies (Bronx), Marchal opts for a much more subdued approach to the violence, building a suspenseful atmosphere instead. It reminded me of the French crime movies of the seventies: Le Cercle Rouge, The Sicilian Clan, and Le Samourai. Especially since a significant portion of the story is set during that decade.
Almost sixty years old, Edmond Vidal AKA Momon, managed to avoid prison or death as a man heavily involved in crime. He lives a relatively peaceful life with his wife and family, enjoying the benefits of his lucrative past occupation. He’s still connected, though. And it seems like the past keeps coming for him as he learns that his best friend Serge Suttel has been arrested. The two of them were the leaders of a group that wreaked havoc on the streets of Lion in the sixties and seventies. Now he must decide if he should do something about Serge’s upcoming imprisonment…
The thing that makes Les Lyonnais a compelling experience is a fact it’s based on real events. You see just how brutal and the unforgiving life of crime is and while Vidal is now an old man, he could have been killed many times during his life. I feel that Marchal bit more than he could chew with this one, setting out to make a gangster epic in the style of Coppola and Scorsese but lacking the nuance. Despite these flaws, this is an entertaining crime movie best watched with a cigarette and a bottle of whiskey. There are enough action and chase scenes to get you excited and enough scenes of Vidal brooding over past or future choices. Like Peaky fookin’ Blinders, only in French. Enjoy.
Director: Olivier Marchal
Writer: Olivier Marchal, Edmond Vidal, Edgar Marie
Cast: Gérard Lanvin, Tchéky Karyo, Daniel Duval, Lionnel Astier, Dimitri Storoge, Francis Renaud, Valeria Cavalli, Stéphane Caillard