Ah Paris. City of lovers. City of fine architecture. City of strolling along promenades, chomping on onions.
It’s also, in the case of Paris Lockdown, city of prostitutes, criminals and violence a-plenty, all carried out very stylishly indeed. Yup, what we’ve got here is a French version of a Guy Ritchie film. However, unlike the British director’s efforts, this is actually very good.
Directed by French director and writer Frédéric Schoendoerffer, this could be seen as the third in a trilogy of films he’s made on crime, the first two – Scènes de crimes and Agents secrets – focusing on the people on the good side of the law. This time out, the bad guys get a look in, and what bad guys they are. Indeed, every character in this film is either a violent criminal, a drug dealer, or a mafia boss. No one has any redeeming characteristics to speak of and each is utterly unlikeable. If you’re looking for a film in which you can empathise with the lead protagonists, look elsewhere.
The plot broadly plays out in two parts. The first half of the film introduces you at a whirlwind pace to all the main characters, from mob boss Claude and his team of hired goons, cousins Hitcham and recently-released-from-prison Larbi, and, most interestingly, Franck, a gun for hire. Moving among the lives of each of these groups, we see that they’re all involved in dodgy dealings, killings and how their lives intersect, more often than not in explosive circumstances. The second half of the film kicks in once Claude is arrested by the police and sent to prison for three years, bringing about a chain of events that brings the three parties even closer together.
It’s worth mentioning here that the film has its problems. Characterisation on the whole is really slight, with no sense of motivation behind anybody’s actions. Characters come and go, have lots of sexual dalliances and kill or be killed throughout, and that’s about it. With this in mind, it’s even more impressive that the lead actors playing Claude, Hitcham and Larbi, and Franck are all superb, although Benoît Magimel (who plays Franck) has clearly watched a lot of De Niro films. His scowl and expressions are pure Bobby, and at times this becomes a distraction. It was also nice to see a role for Béatrice ‘Betty Blue’ Dalle, even though it is a rather thankless one with little screen time compared to the blokes. Mind you, that’s the case with many of the other characters, acting more as foils for the main actors or as your standard hired thug or bullied victim. The females have it worse, with only Dalle and another actress not playing prostitutes. With plenty of bare flesh on show, and a total lack of respect showed towards them on screen, I feel sorry for any of the poor actresses who felt this might have been their big break.
With characterisation so slight, the action scenes typically take centre stage in films of this ilk, and Paris Lockdown has plenty of bloody, gritty and violent scenes to make you take notice. Scenes of torture (with one involving a drill, someone’s legs, and gouged out eyes proving particularly tough) and killings regularly find their way on screen. Best of the lot is a shootout in a supermarket car park, resulting from a drug deal gone bad. Sure you’ve seen this kind of thing done before in LA Takedown but it doesn’t make this any less enthralling. Shot in handheld camera-style, the film has a gritty, realistic look to it, which lifts it above other, similar standard Hollywood fare.
The sole extras on the disc are a trailer for the film plus a 50-minute production diary. Filmed on set throughout the filming process, it’s an insightful, honest record of the filming process, which manages to hold interest throughout, although it would have been nice for it to have been split into chapters for easy viewing.Paris Lockdown, while bringing nothing new to a well-worn genre, is an entertaining diversion for an hour and three quarters. Well acted and well shot, with a glut of action scenes that will keep you gripped, this is worth picking up.