Criminal Squad: the ultimate Gerard Butler movie [Critique]

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Concorde Filmverleih GmbH

An urban western that explodes everything, a heist movie that smashes, a formidable portrait of Los Angeles… Explosive!

TMC will offer Criminal Squad, this evening. The editor recommends it.

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It’s a prologue that recalls the opening of Heat. The camera scans the city and comes to focus on a van speeding through the streets of LA. We follow the truck to the parking lot of a donut store. The guards get out of the van, go into the shop, come out with their arms full, before being picked up by an army of thugs who eviscerate the armored truck. Dum dum bullets against the windshields, M16 casings on the pavement, large calibers that tear the night and the bulletproof vests…. It’s the first peak of a two-and-a-half-hour film. There is in the impact of this initial robbery, in this moment of urban guerrilla warfare, everything that will make the brutal force of the film: violence, power and cinema.

crazy cowboy
Criminal Squad (“French” title of Den Of Thieves) tells the story of a gang of robbers who decide to tackle a crazy project: the American central bank. They quickly find themselves tracked by a squad of cops led by Nick Flanagan, a man even crazier, tougher and more violent than the thugs he tracks down. At that moment, you are probably saying to yourself: “nothing new since James Ellroy’s Lloyd Hopkins, Michael Mann’s films or even Vic Mackey’s brigade”. Not wrong: good cops bad cops, blurring of borders (of the law), drilling of safes and sulphurous filters… The cocktail is classic, but Christian Gudegast (screenwriter of The Fall of London) serves it hot and full-bodied. The editing is sharp, the city of LA superbly filmed and mapped, and the film is anchored in its red light districts with a cast mixing stars, second knives and notorious strangers, all sharp. It’s already a tour de force these days. But even more appreciable: the filmmaker (specialist in the series B which slice) flirts with the western. He reveals a particular taste for fallen heroism, mad vigilantes and masochistic flashes. There is also this incredible ability to transfer the great mythologies of the genre into an urban setting: the first van robbery resembles a stagecoach attack, the brawls look like saloon fights… The Los Angeles skyline even takes tunes from Monument Valley. Strangely, all these archetypes (from the western to the hardboiled with the stupid feds, the belligerent gangstas and the whores who betray), today so eroded that they are hard to bear elsewhere than in GTA, seem to have recovered an iron health under his camera. It’s a small thing, but by dint of evolving in a boiling arena, its crazy cowboys end up becoming little more than clumsy clichés escaped from a bygone Hollywood.


In the middle of this gleaming and testosterone universe, there is above all, more brutal than the most tough from tough guys, Gerard Butler. The Scottish rustic continues to dig his working class hero furrow, his blue collar characters that he wears here to hyperbole (the white tank top under the worn leather is blindingly classy). Burned, bearded and with the thickness of a Norman buffet, his violence is transfigured. The alcohol sweats from his tattooed skin, and his crazy eyes roll in all directions. In the genre, we hadn’t seen that since Mel Gibson’s Martin Riggs, and like him, he managed to scare the hell out of memorable scenes (the yuppies’ dinner is paralyzing). Butler uses his hound morphology with an appetite for gesture and a sense of fascinating incarnation. He multiplies acting tricks (best cigarette game of the year) to nab the camera and never let go. Its appearance often has the effect of a headbutt on the bridge of the nose. Just like the movie.

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