Appellate Judge James A. Stewart knew this one was in French. Honest.
Our review of Un Flic, published October 10th, 2001, is also available.
"The only feelings mankind has ever inspired in policemen are those of indifference or derision."—Francois Eugene Vidocq
With Richard Crenna as one of the stars listed on the DVD cover, you might not realize from the package that Dirty Money (Un Flic) is a French film, with subtitles. "Un Flic" (which means "A Cop" in French) is in smaller type, after all. This one might be quite a surprise for anyone who rents it on impulse at Blockbuster.
If you know a little about the French New Wave, the words "The final film by Jean-Pierre Mellville," also in small type, might clue you in. That wasn't forever, by the way, since 2002's The Good Thief was adapted from one of his screenplays posthumously and a remake of The Red Circle is in pre-production.
Even if you've never seen a foreign film before, keep an eye out for Crenna and Michael Conrad of Hill Street Blues.
If you've picked this up by mistake, you may be wondering what you got yourself into. Read on. It's not as bad as you're thinking.
Facts of the Case
It's a rainy, windy, miserable day in St.-Jean-De-Monts, but the storm inside the local bank will be worse. When a teller drops a bundle of money on the alarm, the resulting chaos leads to bloodshed.
Simon (Richard Crenna, Un Hombre llamado Noon) is part of the gang, but he also runs a nightclub. It's the place where everybody knows police superintendent Edouard Coleman's name. Coleman (Alain Delon, Fabio Montale) even plays the piano when there's not a show. He's also playing around with Cathy (Catherine Deneuve, Dancer in the Dark), Simon's lady.
When Simon's gang plans a second caper involving drugs on a train, Coleman may find out that one of his closest friends isn't all that he seems.
So you bought or rented Dirty Money blind and are dreading the prospect of reading while you watch a movie. Not to worry. Even if you left the subtitles turned off, you could probably follow the plot of Un Flic. When somebody talks about the robbery, there's a newspaper on hand with the headline. The triangle between Edouard, Simon, and Cathy is seen in the stars' eyes the first time they're all together in the nightclub. The actors all have a range of expression that emphasizes the action to transcend dialogue.
The capers themselves are pulled off with a methodical clockwork quality as the robbers in surgical masks hold up the bank at the movie's start or board the train and break into a drug courier's compartment later on as the police fly above the train in their copter.
The cinematography is full of what are described in a quote from Combustible Celluloid on the DVD cover as "gloomy colors." The movie starts on a bleak rainy day, and it feels like it was perpetually overcast during the shoot. This works in the opening, but I got a little tired of it as the movie went on. Is one of these folks the rain god from So Long and Thanks for All the Fish or something? Nahh, it's just a moody movie.
The picture quality is fairly good, if bluish and grayish overall. The monaural audio captures the ambient noise and the musical score well enough. There are no extras, not even a theatrical trailer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Don't you get mad at misleading packaging? Sure, it says "French Dolby Monaural Audio" on the back cover, but if you rented or bought this on impulse, you could miss that.
If Dirty Money (Un Flic) turns out to be your introduction to foreign films and the French New Wave, it might be a pleasant surprise. It's not a talky film, even if it opened with a Vidocq quote on the screen, so you'll be able to keep up with the subtitles, and action speaks louder than subtitles in any language. It does have the occasional pretention, most notably in the gloomy lighting, but Dirty Money is entertaining. Who knows? You could like it and start tracking down more French thrillers.
It's a worthy rental, whether you did it by mistake or design, but the gloomy style makes it unlikely that you'll be watching it over and over again unless you're fanatical about any of the actors or Jean-Pierre Melville.
Dirty Money (Un Flic) is found not guilty, but held on a misdemeanor count of moodiness and gloominess. Lionsgate is also in for a misdemeanor charge for saving the "French Dolby Monaural Audio" part for the back cover.
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