Review: A Gang Story
Released: 6th April, 2012
Dir: Olivier Marchal
Cast: Gerard Lanvin; Tcheky Karyo; Daniel Duval
European gang movies have witnessed something of a resurgence over recent years. Matteo Garrone’s interpretation of Gomorrah took a fresh approach along a well worn path, adding grit and scope to the Italian organised crime canon, and with Vincent Cassell in the lead of Jean-François Richet’s epic two-parter Mesrine, the director had the talent to bring alive the story of one of France’s most notorious criminals. The latest from the genre, Gang Story (Les Lyonnais), follows hot on their heels, bringing to the screen the tale of another figure of the French underworld: seventies gangster Edmond ‘Momon’ Vidal.
Flitting between past and present, Gang Story, sets up the relationship from childhood of Vidal and his friend Serge Suttel (Tcheky Karyo), as they quickly progress from stealing cherries, to robbing banks. Growing up on a Romany Gypsy camp, Vidal has a firm sense of loyalty, however this is tested as Suttel’s re-emerges in Vidal’s life with dark shadows behind him.
On first glance, Gang Story is a guns and crime, with one thread of a dual narrative following the seventies height of les Lyonnais (complete with questionably realistic facial hair), however, at its heart this is an account of the relationship between Vidal and Suttel, two strong figures tied together by their lifelong friendship amidst a world of crime and rivalries.
Gendarme-turned-director Olivier Marchal is not short of experience in crime drama, with three previous efforts (MR 73; Gangsters; 36 Quai des Orfevres) taking the genre from the point of viewer of law enforcers, however this is his first to cross the line of criminality, with the bad guys centre stage. The result is admirable, with the camera, and technical production complimenting the performers to create a sense of brooding tension. Marchal’s film is not short of recognisable faces either, and the present day incarnations of the lead protagonists – Tcheky Karyo and Gerard Lanvin – are particularly strong.
Where the film fails is through the script’s inability to balance action and character study – the former, predominantly shown during flashback sequences, jarring slightly; the latter lacking the intensity a more focused approach might have offered. Originality is also in short supply, with a baptismal scene in particular lifted straight from The Godfather, and the story’s fidelity to the autobiography upon which it is set is limited.
Ultimately, Gang Story lacks the vava voom where it matters. The film is an admirable effort at following the lead of Mesrine and its Hollywood precursors, however in its failure to broach new ground or find an identity of its own, falls short of other films in an already saturated genre.