Another day, another French crime thriller about tough cops and their struggle with criminals. The Stronghold or BAC Nord features a story loosely based on real events that happened in the beautiful city of Marseille. After a bit of additional digging, it turns out that most of the stuff we’re about to see in this movie actually happened. And that includes the characters. I’m guessing they were trying to protect themselves from any further issues from this highly polarizing case. It follows a group of detectives trying to dismantle a drug operation in one of Marseille’s toughest hoods.
After learning all about the business practices of these places in The Wire, it’s interesting to see how things work in the rest of the world. If you want to see how the Italian hoods look like and their drug-selling operations functions work check out Gomorra: La Serie. What I find fascinating are the special barricades installed on the front doors of these huge residential buildings. They bolt the holders to the walls and the actual steel frame is nearby, ready for deployment. The same trick can be seen both here and in Gomorra. First I wondered why the authorities just don’t check and dismantle these things, but then I remembered they don’t even go in these neighborhoods.
Right off the bat, I have to address one issue that bugged me throughout the movie. We will get to know the detectives working on this case pretty well, learning about their daily lives and the dangers they face. However, the people living in the hoods are reduced to mindless zombies without any backstory. Don’t get me wrong, ruthless criminals belong in jail, it’s the rest of the population that I’m talking about. The people who happen to live there without much prospect of ever getting out. With limited options, they are facing a difficult choice made only worse by the lack of institutional support. Check out La Haine if you want to know more.
I also just can’t help noticing that all of the bad guys are people of color while all the good guys are white. Something that feeds into the same narrative that’s the far-right political parties in France are pushing. Saying that the crime is on the rise and they’re the answer to it. Same shit as everywhere else, it would just be a real shame to see France slip further to the right. Liberté, égalité, fraternité my brothers, stand strong and think outside of the box for this one. Because the only solution I see includes major changes in all aspects of life.
Now that we have that out of the way it’s time for a closer look at BAC Nord. This is a character-driven thriller opting for a balanced and personal view of the situation. We will spend most of the time getting to know our three detectives and their daily activities as members of the anti-gang unit. They’re just dipping the toe here and not going into the complexities of the issues. Mostly because The Stronghold is not really an action movie but more of a casual thriller or even drama. You have a feeling that everything is going to turn out relatively okay, unlike some other, similar movies.
It does feature one hell of an action sequence about halfway through with a couple of smaller ones sprinkled along the way. As always, you can count on appealing cinematography and superb production values. The soundtrack is pretty banging. The acting was pretty good, something that was expected from a crew this good. I also couldn’t help falling in love with Kenza Fortas who plays Amel here. Shit girl, we could smoke some hash fo sho.
BAC Nord is the latest in the long line of French crime thrillers the started back in the sixties and seventies. The genre is split into two categories, one focuses on the police and the other on criminals. If you’re looking for similarly themed movies check out Rogue City, 36th Precinct, and The Connection. However, I think that the best one is Bertrand Tavernier’s 1992 epic L.627. Additionally, if you want to take a look at the other side, check out Les Lyonnais, The Crew, Lost Bullet, and Cash Truck. Finally, these are all relatively modern movies, almost all made in the last fifteen years. So, you have a whole bunch of older French crime thrillers from the sixties and seventies to check out. Movies like Un flic, Le Cercle Rouge, Le Doulos, Rififi, and others are also phenomenal.