Dir: Olivier Marchal.France. 2004. 110mins.

A muscular police actionthriller, 36 Quai Des Orfevres is a welcome throwback to the stylish1980s French cops and robbers pictures of Blier, Corneau and Beineix. That itis by relative newcomer director (and former cop) Olivier Marchal (who directed2002's Gangsters) and the recently somnolent Gaumont are also great newsfor French film.

Local audiences haveresponded in large numbers (it opened on $4.8m from 549 screens) and the filmseems set to have potential for a winning international career given the rightpromotion.

In some territories afestival screening may help revive local curiosity in a genre that the Frenchseemed to have abandoned. But really this is top-notch commercial fare withGerard Depardieu and Daniel Auteuil in the kind of awesome form that justifiestheir star billing and provides all the marketing hooks necessary.

The film starts dark anddeliberately confusing, with first scene involving a pair of masked menstealing a street sign from the famous address of the "police judiciare".Spotted by a patrol they make a hasty getaway on a motorbike.

Next scenes, in asubterranean drinking club, involve a crowd of threatening, ugly men involvedin well-lubricated celebrations, macho bonding and the film's first outbreak ofgunfire. Like the recent Infernal Affairs from Hong Kong, the overlapbetween cops and criminal milieux is deliberately blurred.

A spectacular freeway hijackof an armoured truck - worthy of Heat or La Balance - introducesthe cynical Vrinks (Auteuil) and the doggy loner Klein (Depardieu) as two copswho all too clearly loathe each other. Not only are they forced to worktogether in the short term but in the longer term they are both chasing thesame promotion.

Polished, cold and vicious,Auteil is very much the star of the film's first section. He hands out roughjustice with a mock execution and is dealt the same kind of medicine when he ishauled out of a window by a bandit who would rather kill himself than be takenalive. His relationship with informers is all too close. One provides him withan alibi, but shortly after another, The Sicilian (Zem), uses him as coverwhile he commits a breathtaking killing.

Depardieu, more like acow-town marshal with slicked-down hair, is scarcely better. He seems the morehonourable, but cuts corners and during a hold-up breaks ranks, causing thekilling of an old cop.

He is now ostracised bynearly all his fellow cops and cynical boss Mancini (Dussolier) has to step in.When details of the earlier killing come to light Auteuil is locked up andDepardieu takes the leading role.

Exonerated and promoted,Depardieu is revealed as the former lover of Auteuil's wife Camille (Golino).Eventually the film skips ahead seven years to a lengthy denouement withAuteuil released from jail, old favours called in and the tables turned manytimes.

Overall, director, designersand cinematographer have delivered a superb package with steely grey-blue looksand spectacular Parisian locations. Thrills include car chases, Western-stylestandoffs and enough shootings for this to been set in the Bronx. Throughoutthere is genuine dramatic tension and character development.

The end credits contain adedication to a cop killed in 1989, but it is not clear how much Loiseau andMancuso's energetic script borrows from real life or whether any policemanshould be hallowed if he is much like these compromised and corrupt characters.

Marchal can be modestlychided for unnecessarily heavy use of music and for a final twist that defiesbelief. But these are hugely outweighed by the achievement of reviving theFrench cop thriller genre and getting Depardieu and Auteuil at the top of theirgame.

Prod cos: LGM Productions, Gaumont, KL Prods, TF1 Film Prods
Int'l sales:
Fr dist:
Frank Chorot, CyrilColbeau-Justin, Hugues Darmois, Jean-Baptiste Dupont
Dominique Loiseau, FrankMancuso, Marshal, Julien Rappeneau
Denis Rouden
Prod des:
Ambre Fernandez
Erwan Kermorvant, AxelleRenoir
Main cast:
Gerard Depardieu,Daniel Auteuil, Andre Dussolier, Roschdy Zem, Valeria Golino, Daniel Duval