In the ‘70s, Romany gypsy
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 Scorsese-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
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.