Brussels sprouts with crime and corruption in Above the Law (Tueurs), a lean Belgian thriller that’s as generic as both its Anglophone and original titles. Starring Dardenne brothers favorite Olivier Gourmet as a veteran robber embarking on the inevitable “one last job,” this French co-production has a streak of convincing authenticity in its smaller details, likely traceable to the criminal pedigree of its ex-jailbird co-director/co-writer Francois Troukens.
Since serving six years of a 28-year-sentence for a series of van heists in the 1990s, Troukens has become something of a media celebrity in his native Belgium, and his promotional smarts should help the picture make off with a reasonable share of box-office coin when it is released Dec. 6. A dicier theatrical proposition in Gallic theaters, where such slick “polar” actioners are a dime a dozen, it could find a profitable niche via small-screen play in Francophone territories.
A cliched but briskly energetic delve into the murky world of Euro-crime.
Troukens and his scriptwriting collaborator Giordano Gederlini draw upon one of Belgium’s most notable unsolved crime sprees for their story here, spinning a web of nefariousness around the notorious “Brabant Killers” who clocked up 28 victims via a series of gratuitously violent robberies in the 1980s. After an awkwardly handled scene-setting prologue, the present-day action kicks in with an armored-car heist executed in characteristically meticulous — and bloodless — fashion by Frank Valken (Gourmet) and his small, expert team.
In the ensuing melee, however, an investigating judge (Natacha Regnier) is shot and killed by persons unknown. The cops — chief investigators are a mismatched duo, elegant Tesla (Lubna Azabal) and slob Bouvy (Bouli Lanners) — quickly make Frank and company their sole suspects. But this seemingly open-and-shut case quickly proves to be drastically more complex, as a forest of cover-ups ultimately reveals toxic tendrils extending up into the higher echelons of state power.
While their characters are largely underwritten, the skilled cast bring plenty of meat to the functionally constructed table, with Gourmet on convincingly badass form as the laconic, essentially decent crook Frank. The one scene where he gets to verbally square off against Lanners — long one of French-speaking cinema’s most dependable and charismatic character players — is a clear cut above the remainder of the enterprise.
Edited with economic brio by Sophie Fourdrinoy (working with Dimitri Amar), Above the Law runs just under 80 minutes if the opening titles and closing credits are discounted, with the intervening shenanigans competently if somewhat anonymously socked over by Troukens and his directorial partner Jean-Francois Hensgens.
Boasting a stack of experience as cinematographer on commercial French thrillers, Hensgens previously also forged three collaborations with the Dardennes, most notably as first assistant cameraman on The Son (2002). Much of that excellent film consisted of showing the back of Gourmet’s thick neck; Hensgens duly indulges himself with a similar image at the eleventh hour here. But the unquestionably dominant stylistic influence in this noisily scored affair is that of Michael Mann, whose oft-plundered vault of crime movie techniques is shamelessly raided throughout.
Production companies: Versus Production, Capture the Flag, Savage Film, Proximus, RTL-TVI
Cast: Olivier Gourmet, Lubna Azabal, Bouli Lanners, Kevin Janssens, Natacha Regnier, Tibo Vandenborre
Directors: Jean-Francois Hensgens, Francois Troukens
Screenwriters: Giordano Gederlini, Francois Troukens
Producers: Jacques-Henri Bronckart, Olivier Bronckart
Executive producer: Gwennaelle Libert
Cinematographer: Jean-Francois Hensgens
Production designer: Stanislas Reydellet
Costume designer: Pascaline Chavanne, Agnes Dubois, Helene Lhoest, Pascale Vervloet
Editors: Dimitri Amar, Sophie Fourdrinoy
Composer: Clement “Animalsons” Dumoulin
Casting director: Michael Laguens
Venue: Venice Film Festival (Cinema in the Garden)
Sales: TF1 International, Paris (firstname.lastname@example.org)