Well, it was never going to be a romantic comedy, was it? The concluding part of Olivier Marchal’s unofficial trilogy that started with Gangsters and 36 continues along the same lines as its predecessors: bad men on the loose, corrupt police, a troubled ‘hero’, and unflinching violence. Watching MR 73, it’s pretty clear where Marchal’s sensibilities lie.
His is a dark rainbow of cinema style – men in black coats, desaturated colours that render the colourful distinctly murky, and shades of grey in his leading men. Teaming once again with 36‘s Daniel Auteuil, Marchal has unearthed another true story through which to explore a world steeped in violence and the dark side of those fighting against it.
Following two serial killers, one past, one present, MR 73 (taking its name from the standard issue revolver of French police) functions on one level as a French Seven. Auteuil’s police officer Louis Schneider must stop a series of gruesome murders in Marseilles, and Marchal borrows from David Fincher in his unflinching look at the corpses left in the killer’s wake.
Yet, like 36 before it, MR 73 offers more than it first seems. Balancing a second storyline of a recently released psychopath who murdered the parents of young bartender Justine (an impressive Olivia Bonamy, last seen in Them), Marchal is more interested in one man’s search for redemption than he is the hunt for a serial killer.
Auteuil’s Schneider is a man plagued by tragedy and gone to ruin. The film’s opening scene (accompanied, appropriately enough for the whole film, by the downbeat notes of Leonard Cohen) sees him throw his career away without any hint of nobility or higher cause. Transferred to the night shift, he shuffles his way into crime scenes to spend as much time raiding the victims’ drink cabinets as examining the crime scenes.
Auteuil, so often cast as the clean-living white knight, continues his slow metamorphism into a much more unpredictable and exciting actor under Marchal. Whereas 36 saw him opposite Gerard Depardieu as someone to trade heavyweight blows with, MR 73 cuts him adrift from any such clash-of-the-acting-titans moments. Dishevelled and introverted, he has no Al Pacino-style fireworks or grandiose moments, yet he still lights up the screen.
He makes the film work even when it loses its grip slightly in the languid middle section, Marchal piling on the misery just a little too much and letting the story slow almost to a crawl. It’s a film easy to be hugely impressed by, but hard to really love, the director’s refusal to sugar-coat anything both refreshing (there’s no Lethal Weapon-style appeal to Schneider’s spiral into alcoholism and despair) and uncomfortable (even a woman giving birth is captured in alarming close-up).
After the action-heavy and densely plotted 36, MR 73 may disappoint those looking for more of the same. It’s a smaller, quieter affair, with just one big action set piece (like Seven, a rain-soaked chase between suspect and police). But it has a burning intensity that 36‘s tricks-y narrative didn’t allow for, and Marchal echoes David Mamet in making you work to understand who’s who, what’s going on and what it all means. It also leaves an impression that lasts much longer than 36‘s too-clever-for-its-own-good one.
Whether it’s time for Marchal to move on and tread new ground is debatable (Leone’s own trilogy ender The Good, The Bad And The Ugly must have seemed the right note to end his own love affair on, until Once Upon A Time In The West reared its head). But wherever he goes from here should be something to look forward to.
The disc falls down on the extras front. A trailer seems scant coverage if this really is the closing statement on Marchal’s police affairs trilogy, but this is still well worth seeking out.
The Film:The Disc:
MR 73 is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.