The Crimson Rivers (2002) Movie Review

Credits are a strange thing. The credits that roll after the stars’ names have flashed are inconsequential to the moviegoing public. Hence, most people have no idea who, or what, a “Line Producer” is. A Line Producer, in short, is the man who controls the purse strings of a movie’s budget. It is the LP’s job to decide what gets put in the movie, what goes out, or what gets compromised — all in an effort to keep the movie within the given budget. An LP is the best friend of the “Executive Producer,” the man who greenlit the movie (that is, he okayed the movie’s production) and secured the funding necessary to make said movie.

What does this have to do with The Crimson Rivers? I am of the opinion that the LP for Rivers can be only two things — either he is utterly incompetent, or he was too afraid to do his job. Why do I claim either/or? For one, The Crimson Rivers is a pain to watch, especially for those with aspirations to become filmmakers themselves one day. What Rivers does with impunity is to throw money at the screen. This is not in itself a bad thing. Titanic threw $200 million at the screen and came away with a gem of a movie that broke boundaries. Rivers, on the other hand, threw money at the screen and came up with very little to show for it.

Take for example the languid close-up shots that begin the movie, as we the audience are treated to a lovely close-up and personal view of a young man’s mutilated corpse. All of this is done in gory detail, with bugs picking on scabs and gaping wounds and lacerations along the pale body that must have cost a fortune to make. There is absolutely no reason to show us this; yes, the murder is brutal, but in the scope of the movie and the absurd finale, this little money-spending effort seems wasteful.

Filmmakers are a strange lot. When filmmakers have no funding, they rely on creativity to carry the day. That means unnecessary shots are not even attempted, much less considered. A struggling filmmaker can see the costs and potential costs of every scene they are considering, so any scene that costs too much goes right out the window in order to actually finish the movie. Yet, once a filmmaker has “made it,” and is given carte blanche to make his film, he will almost always indulge himself in unnecessary shots and set-ups that would make a guerilla filmmaker cringe.

The money that is spent in the first 30 minutes of Rivers is a travesty. Consider the scene that immediately follows the gruesome close-ups of the body. We are treated to a long overhead shot of a car moving through the French countryside. Yes, the scenery (once again) is very beautiful, but the shot obviously cost a pretty penny. After all, it’s not cheap to hire a helicopter to follow a car down a long winding road. It is expensive — and most sinful of all, very unnecessary. Stanley Kubrick used the same technique in the opening of The Shining, but that scene was haunting and unnerving. It achieved, in a brief and continuous scene, a sense of foreboding by combining the scene with atmospheric music. That one scene sets up the whole movie for us. What director Kassovitz achieves with his overhead opening shot in Rivers is nothing short of dullness, and does little but provide a backdrop for the credits to roll.

It is no surprise, then, that while watching the movie (especially in the first 30 minutes) I kept a tab on the movie’s budget, and had to keep adding and adding and adding… I kept seeing cash spent on useless and unnecessary camera angles, set-ups that go nowhere, all done for the simple purpose of trying to garner a “cool” shot. The results are not very cool, but made me wish the director had concentrated more on his story instead of moving his camera in a fancy way every other second.

The Crimson Rivers has a good premise, a good plot, and very good acting by Jean Reno and solid supporting acting by other characters. Vincent Cassel plays Max, a young cop who teams up with Reno’s Pierre to solve a serial killer mystery that surrounds a college in a remote part of the French countryside. The college itself is an eerie place, filled with perfect students and completely devoid of minorities. Needless to say, before Act One is over, a swastika shows up.

As it stands, the movie’s “surprise” twist is not much of one. The murder mystery, in fact, is not much of a mystery. I guessed the red herrings and figured out the murder before the Third Act kicked in. So what is left if the mystery is solved halfway through? There’s the beautiful scenery, all shot in loving detail by Kassovitz. Unfortunately, I wish he had spent money on better writers instead of taking on the writing chore himself. The script is much too slow in spots and the conclusion is wrapped up too neatly and without any sense of tension. What is supposed to be an intense confrontation at the top of the mountain comes across as rushed. It is almost as if after having spent so much money on endless takes of the French scenery and the college campus, the Line Producer finally stepped in and declared the movie’s budget bankrupt. The rushed feel of the ending is the result.

Mathieu Kassovitz (director) / Jean-Christophe Grange (novel), Mathieu Kassovitz (screenplay)
CAST: Jean Reno … Pierre Niemans
Vincent Cassel … Max Kerkerian
Nadia Fares … Fanny Ferreira
Dominique Sanda … Sister Andre
Karim Belkhadra … Captain Dahmane
Jean-Pierre Cassel … Dr. Bernard Chernez

Buy The Crimson Rivers on DVD