Column: From Strange and Distant Shores: The Crimson Rivers (2000)

By Orrin Grey

crimson_riversThe Crimson Rivers (2000). Director: Mathieu Kassovitz. Cast: Jean Reno, Vincent Cassel. Country: France.

Summarizing the plot of The Crimson Rivers is complicated and prone to the danger of spoilers. Based on a best-selling French novel of the same name, it’s essentially a police procedural/serial killer film in the vein of movies like Silence of the Lambs (though it actually has more in common with Red Dragon, from that series).

The story follows two detectives (Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel) investigating two separate crimes. While Reno follows the trail of a mutilated body found near a mysterious college that pretty much owns the valley in which it is situated, Cassel looks into the desecration of a girl’s grave in a nearby town. Of course the two cases turn out to be one and the same case.

Reno and Cassel are both great, of course, and they both steal the show. They get a lot of time in separately before they’re united and when they are, they have a good rapport between them. Cassel also gets to show off his fighting skills in a brawl with some skinheads and his athleticism in an intense foot chase.

While they’re told in two completely different veins – that of the slasher film and the police procedural, respectively – there’s a lot more in common between Anatomy and The Crimson Rivers than might be immediately apparent. Both contain themes of eugenics, the legacy of Nazi experimentation, and the dangers that come with attempting to further human knowledge at any cost.

The plot of The Crimson Rivers is famously difficult to follow and Cassel has supposedly been quoted as saying that he can’t explain the movie because he didn’t understand it. But I never had too much trouble with sorting out the specifics and even in the places where the motives may become a bit murky, it’s usually a joy to watch with diverting visuals (pretty much all shot on location) and solid acting, and when the credits have rolled, you are at least not left with nothing to think about.