The moral of the French dirty cops thriller “Rogue City” is a familiar one to American crime film fans. The police are a gang, just with different “colors.”
Convoluted, bloody and downbeat, it’s about a Marseilles anti-gang unit that takes extralegal shortcuts until that day they finally cross one line too many and one Corsican mob that isn’t having it.
Actor turned writer-director Olivier Marchal has made police pictures his forte (“Borderline,” “A Gang Story,” “36th Precinct” “Gangsters”), and here he tosses in everything but the évier de cuisine, with so many characters, intrigues and competing agendas that make you grateful Netflix is a streaming service. You can rewind any time you like, because this is kind of hard to follow.
It’s loosely (sloppily) framed within an opening murder-suicide scene, mostly played-out over a black screen. As that’s not enough violence to open the picture, we drop into a massacre at an Arab waterfront club.
Lannick Gautry (a “District 13” thriller sequel) stars as Capt. Vronski, head of a squad assigned to deal with Marseilles’ drug smuggling gangs. Giving him that name allows him to debate Tolstoy with an urbane mobster (Gérard Lanvin) they’re transporting to prison.
That’s the most French thing in this movie. Well, that and characters’ penchant for quoting Biblical Proverbs, and French, Arabic or Corsican proverbs, too.
“Shaving a donkey is a waste of soap and time,” one fellow mutters (in French, with English subtitles). “He who lays a hand on my people should protest HIS people.”
Vronski, Willy (Stanislas Merhar), Max (Kaaris) and Zach (David Belle) have the French version of Internal Affairs on their case, a boss (Patrick Catalifo) who gives them lots of leeway, and a high-minded chief (Jean Reno) to please.
And they have an inter-deparmental rival, Costa (Moussa Maaskri), who turns out to be a dirty cop. Never mind the fact that the turncoat in their ranks is played by an Algerian. Every cop here is compromised, ethnicity be damned.
With the Corsicans and the Arabs fighting over the waterfront and Spanish cocaine business, friends you can count on a lot of shooting.
Gautry’s Vronski is that classic “cool” cop — beautiful, pregnant wife (Erika Sainte) who is introduced because at some point mobsters will threaten her, sailing catamaran as their home. The other guys, barely sketched in, have troubled marriages and loyalties only to each other.
Marchal runs them back and forth across the waterfront, back alleys and hidden coves around Marseilles, slaughtering each other to cover up last crime.
The stand-out character for me is Santu, a Corsican mobster played by Alain Figlarz. And the stand out scene is him being arrested in church, at a funeral.
As for the rest, writer-director Marchal loses track of characters, story threads, mob cash and drugs, impatient as he is to get to the next shoot out.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, graphic violence, drug content, nudity, profanity
Cast: Yannick Gautry, Moussa Maaskri, Stanislas Merhar, Kaaris, David Belle, Patrick Catalifo, Erika Sainte, Jeanne Bournaud Alain Figlarz and Jean Reno.
Credits: Written and directed by Olivier Marchal. A Gaumont film, a Netflix release.
Running time: 1:56