The Mark of the Angels – Miserere: Film Review

The Mark of the Angels - H - 2013
A stylish, totally incredulous thriller with amusing turns from its rowdy leads.

Gerard Depardieu and JoeyStarr team up in Sylvain White's adaptation of Jean-Christophe Grange's bestselling crime novel.

Pairing up two of French cinema’s most volatile personalities for a mildly entertaining, extremely heavy-handed conspiracy thriller, The Mark of the Angels – Miserere (La Marque des anges – Miserere) is equal parts primetime policier, 48 Hrs.-style cop caper and B-grade Marathon Man rehash that, despite some lively performances, never congeals into a convincing whole. The latest big screen adaptation of a work by bestselling crime writer Jean-Christophe Grange (The Crimson Rivers), this first Gallic effort from Franco-American director Sylvain White (The Losers) should see strong summer returns for Pathe in French-speaking territories, but is too hammy to achieve art-house status abroad.

Gerard Depardieu stars as Lionel Kasdan, a hardnosed Parisian detective whose methods and body mass recall Touch of Evil’s Hank Quinlan, although unlike the unrelenting Orson Welles character, Kasdan has decided to ditch police work for a comfy if mournful retirement. Yet as one of the film’s not-so-subtle dialogues explains, “Evil never retires,” and Kasdan quickly finds himself investigating the murder of his local parish’s choirmaster, whose body is found splayed out on the church floor, sprinkled with stained glass.

Cue lots of gothic imagery and ominous chanting, of which there is much in a movie that makes extended use of Renaissance composer Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere, both as mood-inducing music and as a pivotal plot element whose meaning only becomes clear after you’ve heard it sung about twenty times. Meanwhile, Kasdan is soon abetted in his endeavors by badass Interpol agent Frank Salek (JoeyStarr), who crosses his path while tracking an international child slavery racket run by an all-powerful military contractor called “Blackstream” (assumedly because the names Blackwater, Blackbriar and Clearstream were all already taken).

While many of the film’s storylines and side characters provoke little more than eye-rolling reactions, Depardieu and rapper turned actor JoeyStarr (Polisse) manage to make for an unexpectedly enjoyable duo, the former downplaying his scenes as a timidly crafty investigator and the latter being his normally hotheaded self, albeit with more humor than usual. It’s as if the two were trying to have a blast in a movie that tends to take itself way too seriously, and whose source material feels like a mashup of every evildoing plotline of the last half-century.

Indeed, as the two partners follow a trail of bodies and bizarre tattoos, they come across everything from Nazi exiles to Pinochet torture victims to a group of potentially deadly choirboys—not to mention legendary actress Marthe Keller, who plays the head of the ICP and was clearly cast as an homage to the 1976 John Schlesinger film that inspired Grange’s original story.

Yet despite one decent car chase and an amusingly over-the-top hospital fight sequence, White never builds a palpable sense of danger or enough staggering set-pieces to add substance to all the recycled goods. In the least, he has a certain kinetic style, which is well-served by vet DP Denis Rouden’s gloomy widescreen cinematography and sharp editing by Sebastien de Sainte Croix (Vikingar), who keeps up the pace even when the story has gone way past the credibility point.

Production companies: Liaison Films, Pathe, TF1 Films Productions, Brio Films, Saga City, Senator Film Produktion, DD Production, Ufilm

Cast: Gerard Depardieu, JoeyStarr, Helena Noguerra, Marthe Keller

Director: Sylvain White

Screenwriter: Laurent Turner, in collaboration with Sylvain White, Luc Bossi, Yann Mege, based on the novel “Miserere” by Jean-Christophe Grange

Producers: Stephane Sperry

Executive producer: Philippe Saal

Director of photography: Denis Rouden

Production designer: Albrecht Konrad

Costume designer: Fabienne Katany

Music: Max Richter

Editor: Sebastien de Sainte Croix

Sales Agent: Pathe International

No rating, 105 minutes