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Braquo Seasons 1 and 2
DVD

UK Release Date: 18-06-2012
Starring: Jean-Hughes Anglade, Karole Rocher
Price: £19.99 DVD/Blu-ray
UK Certificate: 18
Distributor: Arrow Films
Rating:

Utterly compelling, gritty, savage Gallic crime noir

Season 1

Braquo is Brilliant. From its brutal opening interrogation scene which hits you and the interrogation suspect right in the eye, this French crime drama holds your attention with its ongoing torment chamber of one tense scene after another and won't let go. You watch it with the one eye you still have left wide open and the other firmly closed. Directed and co-written by former policeman Oliver Marchal it possesses the credible details of the battered career cop’s everyday travails that can only come from experience and that no amount of writerly research alone can match. It is part of what holds together the incredibly entertaining thrill ride of this first season of Gallic noir. Comparisons between Braquo and American cop dramas The Wire and indeed The Shield are inevitable. I was reminded just as much of Michael Mann’s classic Heat, because grizzled police captain Eddy Caplan (Jean-Hughes Anglade) is a De Niro-like father figure to his crew of cops, the difference being that he is on the right side of the law, although you wouldn’t know it. And what a dodgy crew they are. Théo Wachewski (Nicholas Duvauchelle) is a womanising, cocaine-snorting rogue of a young officer, an errant liability. But then family man Walter Morlingem (Joseph Malerba) isn’t much better. Stacked like a bullet-headed boxer he has debt problems because he has a gambling problem and a wife whose severe health issues are not helped by a husband who is never at home. Roxane Delgado (Karole Rocher) is the only woman in the team. She never seems to change out of her leather jacket and denim jeans, doesn’t give a hoot for her appearance and smokes cigarettes as only the French can smoke cigarettes, remaining permanently surly and taciturn as she puffs away while looking like she could do with a good bath. With an older writer boyfriend seemingly her only weakness, she is, in the sort of parlance you would expect from the motley cast of characters the team come across, one tough, cool bird.

The trigger for the spiral of violence and criminality (and that’s just the police) is the suicide of the team’s mentor in the opening episode. Accused of aggravated sexual violence against a violent rape suspect, it’s the last straw for Max, who decides it is time to check out of a world of hypocrisy, corruption and routine human evil. Eddy and his team set out to clear his name and show themselves masters at pouring fuel on a fire. Anglade is superb as Eddy. Some might remember him way back in Luc Besson’s early and highly stylised directorial outing, Subway, as a fresh-faced, gangly, amiable pickpocket on roller skates trawling the Paris Metro. A quarter of a century on and life looks like it has well and truly lived in Anglade, which makes him perfect for the part.

Eddy and his team from the SDPJ Hauts-de-Seine don’t just cross the line, they stamp all over it. Not only do they have an ongoing nemesis, career criminal Lemoine (Alain Figlarz, giving Walter more than a run for his money when it comes to bullet-headed boxer types) they also have to contend with Internal Affairs officer Vogel (Geoffroy Thiebaut). His is one among many of the several, superb performances. Vogel is a loathsome, narcissistic pedant (check out that silver mullet), hypocritically perverse in his pursuit of those in the ranks he believes are perverting the course of justice. Everyone wants a piece of Eddy Caplan by the end, Caplan proving himself to be the most cunning street dog of the lot (and a dog in other ways, as his less than upright relationship with Max’s widow displays). The team navigate their way though the crummy streets of Paris, the fag-end, awash with lowlifes, caught up in tense heist situations (‘Braquo’ is street slang for a heist of the nastiest kind), bare-faced lying to their superiors and blazing action. Amid it all the lives of the four are gradually revealed. Floundering badly on their own, they are the best of the best as a team. The best of a very bad lot as well, but no matter what bits of the law they break into pieces you are always on their side. When they are not hunting the elusive Lemoine while dodging a hail of hoods amid those crummy streets, they are busy playing bouffant-cat-and-mouse with Vogel. The climax, where tables are turned and turned again, is not so much a twist, as a full nelson. It sets things up nicely for Season 2. Braquo is a terrific crime thriller, containing eight 52 minute episodes, its atmospheric Gallic grit a perfect foil to all that absorbing, often internalised Scandinavian crime angst so popular right now.

Season 1 is out now.

Season 2

The opening of Season 2 of Braquo begins with cop Théo Wachewski fleeing through the woods, a team of armed police on his tail and Eddy Caplan right there with them. The bullet flies. Caplan and his team are back and tangled in an almighty mess all of their own making. What marks Season 2 apart from Season 1 are even more extreme lashes of violence (studded with three disturbing torture scenes, two of them extremely so, this and the previous series have an 18 certificate) and even higher stakes for Eddy and his team. kicked off the force, Caplan is imprisoned and the rest of his crew in disgrace: Walter a glorified petrol attendant in the police carpool, Roxane demoted to a desk job in a sleeper of a station, looking very pissed-off that she has to forego her beloved jacket and jeans and scrub up for a rank and file uniform. Their only chance of redemption comes when a spate of killings involving high-ranking government officials leads to the arrest of a former elite French soldier. He has a mercenary past involving dodgy dealings in Angola and some even dodgier ones in some surrounding unstable African regimes. But the killings continue and Caplan is offered a chance for freedom when it is arranged for him to escape with ex-solider Gaetan Merks (Pascal Demolon) and infiltrate what is clearly a professional assassination cell. Only this is Eddy Caplan we are talking about and escape made, so far so pear-shaped, as Eddy finds himself with a dead police patrolman on his hands and the whole force after him.

Braquo Season 2 is directed and co-written by Abdel Raouf Dafri (Mesrine and A Prophet), so expect violence of the visceral kind and you will not be disappointed. Season 2 manages to do what Season 2 of the surpassingly wonderful Danish police crime drama The Killing, in its second season could not: broaden the scope of the plot to involve not just local crime and government chicanery but that of the military too and still come anywhere near the brilliance of the first series. Where Season 1 of Braquo was deviously involved, in Season 2 the plot is more of the outlandish kind. Left for dead by his toady government paymasters, Colonel Dantin (François Levantal demonstrating a fine line in chiselled military jaw and crew cut) has plenty of scores to settle and along with what is left of his former military force he will not allow anyone to stand in his way to settle them. There is also the matter of some gold bullion and a military weapon that can specifically target terrorists. Not forgetting that Lemoine is still on the loose and Vogel, too.

Amid all these intertwining plot threads it is actually family that is the key theme of Season 2. Eddy’s team is his family, Danton’s men are his. Iréne Bluevanne (Ludmila Mikael, seemingly modelling her character on the killer cold grace of a certain former French First Lady), head of a big business industry (among its interests, advanced military weaponry), wants her boy to be as successful and ruthless as she is. And then there is the Arifa gangster family, headed by Annie Mercer’s matriarch. Remember Joe Pesci in Goodfellas? This old lady is scarier than him. She is waging a turf war with Armenian gangsters, her two psychotic sons by her side. Even Lemoine is driven by family ties and will stop at nothing to do right by his wife and infant son, including employing a hammer and some acid. A more cold-hearted bunch of murdering bastards you are unlikely to come across, this is crime in extremis that borders on the surreal. You actually feel sorry for Lemoine’s dilemma amid it all and that’s saying something given his nasty credentials for ruthlessness in Season 1.

What holds it all together is the bond of loyalty between Eddy and his team, here strained beyond breaking point. Abdel Raouf Dafri puts them all through the ringer and then some, giving the actors a chance to deepen their already excellent characterisations. Ensnared in situations even more nerve-jangling and tense than the first series, Caplan is a cunning dog constantly bated in a pit of vipers. The bloodletting is relentless and the climax explosive. Like its predecessor this is another eight hours of utterly compelling, gritty, Gallic crime noir. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself watching the whole brutal and bloody brilliant lot at a single sitting.

Two 2-disc boxed sets, French with English subtitles, also available as a complete 4-disc set.

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Théo (Nicolas Duvauchelle) making his point

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Gunning for villains

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Lemoine, down but not out

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Walter (Joseph Malerba) and Roxane (Karole Rocher) one cool, tough bird

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Eddy (Jean-Hughes Anglade) and Vogel (Geoffroy Thiebaut) Men in Black

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