Thursday, 14 March 2013

Gang Story (Les Lyonnais)

Gang Story (Les Lyonnais)

In the ‘70s, Romany gypsy Edmond Vidal, aka Momon (Gérard Lanvin) was one of France’s most notorious underworld figures.  Audacious armed robbers, he and his gang Les Lyonnais pulled off some of the country’s biggest heists, fighting vicious gang wars and running battles with the police, before being caught and imprisoned in 1974. 

Fast-forward to the present day and Momon is now more or less legitimate having retired from “the business.”  Unfortunately, former best friend and major liability Serge (Tchéky Karyo), has just hit town.  Owing a lot of money to a drug syndicate he ripped off, he’s just been busted by the cops, who are pressuring him to spill his guts and implicate, among others, Momon.

Motivated by loyalty, honour and his own personal code while haunted by memories of his younger self and his exploits, Momon finds himself being sucked back into the life he’s managed to escape in a bid to help his friend that will have devastating consequences.

Based on the memoirs of the real-life Edmond Vidal, ex-cop turned film director Olivier Marchal’s Gang Story, his first film from the other end of the cuffs, while robust, feels less sure than some of his previous work where dodgy, renegade cops were centre-stage rather than the crooks they’re chasing. 

The police politics and moral ambiguity of the stunning 36, MR 73 or his flawless TV series Braquo feel real; we know this is a world Marchal understands, has lived in.  Gang Story’s tale of honour among thieves however, with its decades-spanning story may be slick and ambitious, but it’s curiously uninvolving. It lacks the grit and pain of his other work, it feels flashy and derivative, the plot predictable.  While it shares some common ground with Jean-Francois Richet’s Mesrine films, particularly in its depiction of the links between France’s criminal class and its corrupt political machine, it lacks the depth and weight of those films, its protagonists lack the glamour of the real-life Mesrine while Lanvin and Karyo lack the charisma and sheer ferocity of Vincent Cassell’s performance. 

Not content with telling one story, Marchal tells two, the film jumping around in time, it’s present-day protagonist reminiscing about his gang’s meteoric rise and fall; all big collars, moustaches, furious gun battles and younger actors who look nothing like the aging Lanvin and Karyo, set to a Scorses-esque Greatest Hits of the ‘70s soundtrack.  The heists race past in frenetic generic montage sequences of sentimental ‘70s nostalgia, the characters feel underwritten and none of the young actors make much of an impression with the exception of the feral Dimitri Storoge who plays the younger Momon.  The film feels like two separate movies; a violent ‘70s-set shoot-‘em-up and a more mournful, contemplative, character driven thriller about aging crims.  It’s unfortunate that Gang Story doesn’t do justice to either story.

It passes the time effectively, it’s a decent enough crime movie, but it feels rushed, clichéd, like its trying to pack too much into it’s slender hour and three quarters and it may have been more suited to TV where its characters may have had room to grow and evolve.  As a Gallic wrinkle on the age-old themes of honour among thieves and bros before hos, Gang Story is worth a watch.  It’s a tough, brutal little slice of French low-life elevated to the epic but one thing it won’t do is surprise you.

David Watson

Directed by:
Written by:
Produced by:
1 hour 42 minutes (approx.)
UK Release Date:
Friday 6th April 2012

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