Black Tide (Fleuve Noir)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/28/18 11:36:10

"A decent missing-kid story with a couple memorable performances."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Fleuve Noir" ("Black Tide" in English) feels like the sort of grimy, thoroughly compromised police movie that stopped showing up in America with any great frequency back in the 1990s, perhaps for good reason - it's dark and sometimes feels like it reinforces humanity's lesser impulses rather than shining a light on them. There's still an undeniable fascination to imperfect men trying to travel down the truth, though, and this one's got a story that gets under one's skin, the sort of mystery that gets solved by just picking at it until it bleeds, and the filmmakers a fair job of keeping that going until it's done.

16-year-old Dany Arnault is missing, but when mother Solange (Sandrine Kiberlain) first reports it, police Commander François Visconti (Vincent Cassel) tells her to hold tight, saying kids that age often run off for their own reasons, which is true enough, although Visconti is probably also distracted by his own son's involvement in drug-dealing. When the boy doesn't return, it becomes an official case, and Visconti finds himself pulled in, discounting his colleagues' theories about ISIS recruitment at the boy's school or him running away after meeting the boy's neighbor and former tutor Yann Bellaile (Romain Duris), who seems to be following the investigation a little too closely.

Give this sort of movie a dedicated, professional investigator and it's an episode of <I>Without a Trace</I>; build it around an alcoholic wreck and you've got a movie. With Vincent Cassel in the lead, it's definitely not just some episodic crime drama. He's tasked with playing his detective as a sweaty, semi-toxic mess, just gross enough to disdain and dogged enough to kind of admire. He's kind of fascinating when François is at his worst, less so when he's the sort of disreputable one kind of expects, but always giving the impression of someone who may once have been impressive before alcohol and disillusionment broke him. Romain Duris gives him an odd performance to play off, almost comically suspicious and a bit of a stereotype besides, but enjoyably slippery. He's good at slipping from a stuttering nervous wreck to something decidedly more sinister when the time comes.

Bellaile being right there and suspicious as heck means the film seldom plays out like a whodunit, and that puts a lot of the emphasis on watching François pour himself into the case, maybe trying to find a deeper meaning to all that's happening even while enjoying how smoothly writer/director Erick Zonca resents the procedural work of investigation. The subplot about François's son feels like it may have played out better in the original novel (or at least differently, since the film transplants the story to France from Israel), as it doesn't quite snap into focus as the truth about the case is laid bare. As with a lot of films about less-than-ideal cops, there's a fair amount of ambient racism and homophobia on display, and at times it doesn't seem to think a whole lot of women (though, to be fair, their partners are seldom great male role models).

And yet, there's something that almost lines up, a question of whether it's better to have dysfunction on the surface or underneath, that at least gives the audience a little bit to think of on the way home. Zonca et al never seem to be truly celebrating Visconti as a blunt, miserable instrument in comparison to all the people he meets with something to hide, and at times the film can seem to be little but cynical; neither the people hiding their dissatisfaction or acting out seem to be doing well.

That's not quite the message of every crime drama ever made, but it's certainly one articulated well here. I don't necessarily want to see Cassel tackle other books in this series, but I sure appreciate the way he poured himself into this one.

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