Marseilles isn't Appellate Judge James A. Stewart's turf, but he likes the scenery.
"Fabio Montale's friends are rapidly becoming an endangered species."
This time it's personal. How many times have we heard something like that before? Just on 24? You may not have heard of Fabio Montale before, but it will remind you of many a TV action drama with its lonely hero and stench of internal corruption. The difference is that it's in French—and there's a lot of beautiful Marseilles (Or is it Marseille? The legends on screen drop the "s" while the subtitles use it) scenery.
Alain Delon (The Concorde…Airport '79) plays Fabio, a cop with a rough past whose incorruptibility could be deadly for those around him. Fabio Montale first appeared in a trilogy of novels by Jean-Claude Izzo, from which this trio of French TV movies was derived.
Facts of the Case
Fabio Montale contains three made-for-TV movies on two discs:
Fabio's childhood buddies are dying. After the death of one, another shoots the gangster he believes responsible and is gunned down by police. Worse, the body of partner Thierry's girlfriend is found naked on a hilltop. Still worse, there may be a connection that leads inside the force.
The first time turns out to be the last time for Guitou, the son of Fabio's cousin, who witnesses a hit after making love to his girlfriend in a derelict building. When Fabio tries to track down the girl, a social worker friend is gunned down. There could be a connection to arms dealers—and corruption inside the force.
Fabio's celebrating his retirement and a new life running a bar. After Fabio finds the woman he was celebrating with after the party dead, her throat slit, an anonymous call tells him carnage will keep hitting close to home unless he delivers a reporter who's gotten too close to the Mafia's secrets. A corrupt cop turns up.
Fabio Montale's first appearance is the stuff of TV icons. Robbers have taken hostages in a store and the police have the place surrounded. Suddenly, a lone man appears in the street. Next, he magically appears in the store. He shows the robbers that's he's an unarmed cop, and coolly tells them that the sentence for shooting an unarmed cop is life, while they're only on the hook for armed robbery now. His words do the trick, and the bad guys give up after he promises to put in a good word for them.
Afterwards, he tells his police colleagues that he knew the back way into the store because as a youth, he once committed a robbery in the same building.
It seems the French makers of Fabio Montale have gotten the message from years of iconic American characters from Eliot Ness to Jack Bauer. You don't just create a character; you create a myth, an image. Alain Delon makes their iconic character likable and accessible as Fabio is seen fixing up his "hovel" (as partner Thierry calls it), dodging warning bullets in the police parking garage, and making his words mightier than bullets. Of course, his words are tough stuff like "Tell me something interesting or you'll end up in a wheelchair" or "Kill me while you have a chance. Because I won't let you go." Fabio means it, too, although he tends to reserve his disdain for people the bad guys will be killing anyway.
The three Fabio Montale dramas have some unusual moments—including a shocking scene in which Thierry unravels at the police station in Total Chaos—but there's a tendency toward the familiar. The stories may have come from popular novels, but they feel familiar in our current TV action glut. With lots of lines like, "Everyone loves you, Fabio Montale. Everyone respects you. You're surrounded by people who want to look after you. Yet you're alone, terribly alone," you kind of know that Fabio's the typical TV lone wolf.
The Amazon.com descriptions suggest that the stories were picked up fairly closely for the movie trilogy. At any rate, the stories are more compelling than the one I saw in Jesse Stone: Night Passage, which might be considered the American made-for-TV counterpart. Bloodier, too.
Fabio Montale has lots of action, nice pacing, and sharp dialogue, at least from what I can see in the subtitles. The action reaches a peak in Solea as a conclusion nears for Fabio Montale's saga, one that includes hints of a new start for a weary veteran of the war on crime.
"How could such a beautiful place produce so much…?" Fabio's cousin asks.
"That's Marseilles," he answers, looking out over some of that beauty.
Fabio Montale is the most gorgeous-looking seedy crime drama I've seen in a long time, with its stunning shots of Marseilles during the day, at night, and in flashback—and those lush blues and greens come through loud and clear in the transfer. A few scenes of dirty narrow streets and graffiti-covered alley walls let you know that this show has some grit, and the scenic interludes of verdant mountains and waves lapping on the coast let you know that it doesn't have too much grit. The jazzy score that just screams "moody cop show" also fares well on this transfer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
How many friends could Montale, at retirement age, have made if they keep dropping like flies? Isn't it a bit ridiculous that these cases keep hitting home like that? At least when the bodies start turning up in Solea, Montale's friends have the wisdom to start packing.
Fabio Montale isn't bad, but the only thing that's really new is the Marseilles scenery. If that's what you're looking for in a diversion and you don't mind the subtitles, go ahead and give Fabio Montale a look.
Not guilty, thanks to a good production, stunning scenery, and Alain Delon's star presence. The familiar stories may make the case moot for a lot of you, though.
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