Gang Story Reviewed: A Rough-Edged Crime Flick With A Sting In Its Tail

Based on a true story, Oliver Marchal’s Gang Story is an unflinching, fast paced thriller that pulls no punches, keeping up a long tradition of quality French crime films.
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Based on a true story, Oliver Marchal’s Gang Story is an unflinching, fast paced thriller that pulls no punches, keeping up a long tradition of quality French crime films.

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France has a long history of gangster films, from early pre-cursors to film noir such as Pepe Le Moko, continuing through to Jean-Luc Godard’s seminal A Bout De Souffle and most recently the Vincent Cassell double hit of Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1. So it’s fair to say that as a country, they know what they’re doing, and though Gang Story doesn’t quite measure up to these classics of the genre, it still keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout its 102 minute running time.

Edmond Vidal, aka Momon, and Serge Suttel met as kids in the playground, when Serge saved Momon from a group of bullies targeting his gypsy heritage. They were first sent to jail together as a couple of teenagers after stealing cherries while on a joy ride. From then on the two were heavily involved in organised crime, forming the infamous Gang Des Lyonnais, a notorious group of armed robbers who operated in the 1970s. However, in 1974 the group were caught in a spectacular arrest, and they disbanded after that.

Now, Momon is 60, retired and living in quiet luxury with his fiercely loyal wife Janou. However, Serge never left that part of his life behind and ends up being sent to prison again, as well as being wanted by a notorious drug baron whom he has double crossed. Momon and the criminal friends who he keeps close with have to make a decision – leave Serge to suffer the consequences for his crime, or re-enter the criminal world and break him out of jail? Perhaps feeling indebted to Serge given the manner of their introduction, Momon opts for the latter choice, and as a result is thrust firmly back into the criminal underworld with devastatingly brutal ramifications.

Momon and the criminal friends who he keeps close with have to make a decision – leave Serge to suffer the consequences for his crime, or re-enter the criminal world and break him out of jail?

The film seamlessly switches between Serge and Momon as young hoodlums, as politically funded gang criminals, and as older, more wizened men, charting the political changes in France over the years very well. Also, the period detail is excellent, with beautifully stylish cars and costumes that combined with a grainy, washed out cinematography make the 1970s era look visually sumptuous. However, whereas in the aforementioned Mesrine films the cultural context is fully explored, here it is more of a side-note. The real focus is on action, intrigue and suspense. The shootout sequences are painted with big, broad strokes, the camera not really doing too much, giving the impression that we are watching everything happen in real time. This gives the scenes a real immediacy which hammers home the brutality of the crimes. Similarly, the film is unflinchingly realist in what it does and does not show, and more often than not, it shows everything. However, there is little attempt made to glamorise the killings in particular, with the scenes often feeling uncomfortable and moreover painfully inevitable. The negative result of this is that the film often feels quite predictable, though the twist at the end is nicely dealt with and does offer something of a new spin on the examination of the so-called “code of honour” amongst criminals, which is very interesting.

This film won’t go down in history, but the great action sequences coupled with fantastic performances all round and a punchy, rough-edged script make it well worth checking out if you’re interested in the gangster genre.

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