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“The Crimson Rivers” – French thriller hits all the noir notes


French actors Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel play Detective Commissioner Pierre Niemans from Paris and local Detective Inspector Max Kerkerian. Their separate investigations have led them to another dead body in the small university town of Guernon in the French Alps.

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Blu-ray; 2000; R for violence/grisly images and profanity; streaming via Apple/iTunes, Vudu, YouTube

Best extra: “The Investigation,” a documentary featuring director Mahieu Kassovits, novelist and co-screenwriter Jean-Christophe Grange, and actors Jean Reno, Vincent Cassel and Nadia Fares.

IN ORDER TO bring a complex novel to the screen, aspects of the story occasionally need to be truncated, and some characters changed, combined or dropped altogether. Director Mahieu Kassovits (“Gothika,” 2003) and novelist/script co-writer Jean-Christophe Grange (“Empire of Wolves,” 2005) explain how a character who really would have brought viewers into the film was dropped entirely in order to make the narrative flow more smoothly on screen.

I had no difficulty tracking the plot. As a matter of fact, as far as mysteries go, it hit my sweet spot in that I was able to figure it out JUST before the central characters did. (A mark of fair play to mystery screenwriters - IMHO.)

Vincent Cassel (“Ocean's Twelve,” “Ocean's Thirteen”) who plays the younger detective Max Kerkerian, apparently, wasn't so lucky. He frequently states that he had no idea WHAT was going on between daily script changes and the complex plot.

(1) “The Crimson Rivers” premiered in France on September 27, 2000, and in the U.S. not until July 2021. (2) Detective Superintendent Pierre Niemans arrives in Guernon to investigate a brutal murder and mutilation. (3-5) The Pathologist (François Levantal) uncovers the body of student Remy Callois who had been placed in the fetal position and originally found hanging several hundred feet on a rock cliff.

When I think of French mysteries, I think of solid police procedurals, character driven with lots of the lovely Parisian scenery. “The Crimson Rivers” hits a little like “Silence of the Lambs" with just a taste of “The Boys from Brazil.”

Veteran tough guy Jean Reno (“The Professional,” 1994; “Ronin,” 1998) stars as a legendary detective sent from Paris to an elite college town nestled in the mountains to crack the gruesome torture/murder of the college's chief librarian. Several towns over, Cassel's rambunctious young police lieutenant is investigating a break-in at an elementary school and the attempted desecration of a little girl's grave.

Throw in a mysterious young woman (Nadia Fares) studying the giant glacier that overlooks the college, faculty, and students with secrets of their own, and a decades-old conspiracy, and you have a suitably suspenseful and violent evening's entertainment.

This is true neo-noir, a slow-burn with plenty of twists, turns and red herrings. The atmosphere, like the murders, is grim. The eventual meeting and partnership of the two detectives are believable.

“The Crimson Rivers" was so successful that it spawned a sequel and a French television series that lasted three seasons.

(1) The local police set up the dragnet to find any cues to the murder. (2-4) Niemans seeks answers from Dr. Bernard Chernezé (Jean-Pierre Cassel) (5&6) Niemans’ investigation takes to Remy Callois’ room on the college campus and finds his Ph.D. writings.

Other EXTRAS includeThe Corpse,” where we discover how the very realistic looking mock-up corpse used in the opening credits and the autopsy scene was put together, “The Car Chase” and “Mountain Sequence, where quick moving by Reno and Cassel kept Fares from being terminally squashed! Plus a commentary track with Kassovits, Reno and Cassel, in French with subtitles and theatrical trailers for this and other Kino Lorber projects round up the extras.


We’ve advised the brilliant 1080p image comes from an older 2K master, but this looks so good it could be 4K. Award-winning French cinematographer Thierry Arbogast, who also filmed “The Professional,” “The Fifth Element,” and “La Femme Nikita,” shot “Crimson Rivers” in Sweden and Spain on 35mm (2.35:1 aspect ratio). Images and scenes are clear and sharp, with a realistic palette.


The Dolby Digital sound mix is clear, clean and crisp. There's a lovely hushed sequence that takes place in a snowfall. We suggest using the original French language version with subtitles instead of the English dub. It makes a difference.

Pay attention and steel yourself for a gruesome, but satisfying trip to the French Alps. Mystery fans won't be disappointed.

— Mike Reynolds

(1) Kerkerian investigates the desecration of a grave of a girl who died 20 years ago. (2-5) Niemans recruits Glaciologist Fanny Ferreira (Nadia Farès), and they discover another body buried in a glacier. (6) Kerkerian battles two skinheads. (7) Niemans connects the dots between the two investigations.



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