MR 73

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PARIS -- "MR 73" is the third in a trilogy of police thrillers that Olivier Marchal began in 2002 with "Gangsters" and followed up two years later with "Department 36." It also is far and away the darkest of the three movies. While its resolutely dour tone and downbeat ending might deter younger spectators, the convincing portrayal of a cop at the end of his tether should pay off handsomely with mature audiences in many territories.

The announcement that serial killer Charles Subra (Philippe Nahon) is to be released early for good behavior unleashes old demons for his arresting officer Louis Schneider (Daniel Auteuil) at a time when he is struggling to cope with more recent demons -- among them deep pangs of guilt incurred when his wife suffered debilitating brain damage in a car crash while he was enjoying a fling with his police colleague Marie (Catherine Marchal).

Complicating matters, a new spate of killings -- clearly the work of another serial killer -- has broken out. Meanwhile, Justine (Olivia Bonamy), the daughter of one of Subra's victims 25 years earlier, writes to Subra in prison and then makes contact with Louis.

As a police detective, Louis is not so much hard-bitten as chewed up and spat out. He is first seen slumped drunk in a bus that he then proceeds to hijack for the hell of it. Asked by a psychiatrist whether he believes in God, he replies that the deity "is a son of a bitch, and one day I'm going to kill him." He's rarely without a bottle close at hand, and it always appears to be three days since his last shave. He inflames relations with his superior Kovalski (Francis Renaud) by joining the investigation into the latest killings, then he assaults him.

In an opening title, Marchal informs spectators that the film is based on a true story. The director, an ex-cop, has hinted that the movie is a transposition of events that caused him to leave the police 15 years ago. But the story of "MR 73" is best seen simply as a peg on which Marchal hangs his depiction of a burned-out cop, superbly assisted by Auteuil.

The weakness of the plotting is more than compensated by the strength of the performances and the splendor of the visuals. Rarely has the Mediterranean port of Marseille, where the action is set, appeared so bleak onscreen. The sun is banished to the margins in a succession of night scenes, murky interiors and washed-out colors that provide a fitting setting for a world without redemption.

Marchal arguably overplays the religious connotations (his CV includes a spell spent at a Jesuit school), and the movie's resolution -- in which a Manurhin MR 73 handgun plays a key role -- is too pat. But for all its faults, "MR 73" is a powerful piece of filmmaking that marks out its director as a distinctive voice making a personal statement about the more troubling aspects of crime and punishment.

MR 73
LGM Films, Gaumont, TF1 Films Production, Medusa Film
Sales agent: Gaumont
Credits:
Screenwriter-director: Olivier Marchal
Producers: Cyril Colbeau-Justin, Jean-Baptiste Dupont, Franck Chorot
Executive producer: David Giordano
Director of photography: Denis Rouden
Production designer: Ambre Sansonetti
Costume designer: Marie-Laure Lasson
Music: Bruno Coulais
Editor: Raphaele Urtin
Cast:
Louis Schneider: Daniel Auteuil
Justine: Olivia Bonamy
Marie Angeli: Catherine Marchal
Kovalski: Francis Renaud
Mateo: Gerald Laroche
Jumbo: Guy Lecluyse
Subra: Philippe Nahon
Running time -- 124 minutes
No MPAA rating
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