Friday, April 23, 2010

REVIEW: Dobermann

Director: Jan Kounen
Year 1997

Dobermann is a rabid and fast paced French heist film with teeth to bare, brought to us by director Jan Kounen. The film stars Vincent Cassel as a master criminal named Dobermann, who leads a group of ruthless bank robbers on various blood inducing heists. Dobermann has been a killer since birth and he obtained his first gun at his christening when only an infant. What a bad-ass. Dobermann leads his gang in a daring bank robbery that leaves bodies bleeding in the street and the cops running around like chickens with their heads cut off. This balls to the wall heist is accented all the more outrageous by the vibrant cast of interesting characters both from within the gang and from outside the group.

Cassel, being the bad-ass he was born to be.

Dobermann's main squeeze is played by the real life wife of Vincent Cassel, the gorgeous and alluring Monica Bellucci. She plays the beautiful but deadly mute Nathalie, whose pension for explosions and over the top kills is unparalleled. She has Dobermann's back full fold and takes anyone out who messes with him. This sounds like the perfect premise for a 70's grindhouse flick, and in a way it caters to the same crowd. There is enough exploitive elements of over the top violence and incisive gore that any lover of the sleazy nature of those flicks will jump for joy over this unabashed display of lead fueled bedlam.

Bellucci, being the hot bad-ass she was born to be.

There's also an array of outrageous characters pursuing Dobermann's gang within the police force. One of the most outstanding and interesting characters out of this lot is Inspecteur Sauveur Christini, played by the intense all around baddy, Tcheky Karyo. You may remember him in La Femme Nikita, Bad Boys, Goldeneye, The Patriot, and most recently the appropriately titled vampire comedy romp, Vampire Party. In Dobermann, he plays the role of Vincent Cassel's nemesis who will stop at nothing to bring Dobermann's antics to justice, even if it means killing him in the process. He brings an even harder edge to the already abundant toughness that thrives in this film.

What the hell are you looking at?

Dobermann isn't just a mindless action film focused solely on brutal gunfights and octane filled violence. It's got all of these ingredients, but it also throws some comedy into the mix, making it an even more entertaining spectacle of momentous proportions. Monica Bellucci's character cannot speak, so this sets up a few hilarious moments where she is swearing at someone using sign language or using crude motions to depict a raunchy act. It's funny as hell and a bit unorthodox for such a high caliber actress, but she pulls it off with great accord and endless amusement. Plus it's great to see her having the time of her life firing off guns that are twice her size.

Monica believes that size does matter.

The entire heist sequence is a real treat as the madness of the bank robbery unfolds and begins to spin wildly out of control. The characters cast in this predicament begin going ape shit, driving the intensity level sky high and in doing this, they give us an entertaining as hell escapade to watch. It's fun to see the carefully laid out plans that the group had put together, being cast to the wind once the whole project begins to fall apart and go astray. There is such an intense approach to these sequences and you really feel the frantic experience of bum rushing a bank and demanding they give you all of their money. Great job in the directing department by Jan Kounen, because you feel the raw power of the theft and are transported to that hectic moment.

This is a moment where the shit really does hit the fan.

Vincent Cassel shines in the title role of Dobermann and his charisma carries the film along from each set piece. He is the glue that holds this entire crew of bank robbers together and he's also the foundation that this film stands on. Vincent has always put his all in every movie that he has appeared in and he's created so many memorable characters in such films as La haine, L'appartement, Crimson Rivers, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Irreversible, and Reckoning. The list goes on and on. In Dobermann, he does such an excellent job in this film that I'm really looking forward to checking out his new crime epic Public Enemy #1, where he stars as the real life french gangster Jacques Mesrine. This film looks intense and I wouldn't expect anything less from such a gifted and painstakingly cool actor.

Cassel even looks cool in a shitty junk yard.

Another memorable blood bath occurs inside a night club after the gang has successfully escaped from the bank robbery. Inspecteur Sauveur Christini and his men have surrounded the club and order a swat team to storm the building. The amount of gunfire and chaos that scatters the club in these moments is startling and awe inspiring. The whole sequence is like an acid trip with lights flashing and techno beats blaring from all angles. The director really takes charge with the movements of the camera, and we are treated to many energized tracking motions and dizzying zooms that really reflect the nature of the pulse pounding scene.

Get that camera out of my fucking face.

The soundtrack to this film is also amazing and reflects the visuals that are smashing across the screen. In this particular sequence of the cops raiding the dance club, the thriving beats are courtesy of the band Prodigy as their song Voodoo People blares over the speakers, setting the pace for the rhythmic gun fight that blasts the frame. It's beautifully shot in all its chaos and everything moves with a slick kinetic flavor, that it's virtually impossible not to be swept up in all the carnage and gunplay. This scene is definitely one of the high moments in Dobermann and the visual flare set upon this sequence is top notch and rivaled by a very few in action cinema.

Fuck the police! Fuck the police! Fuck'em!

The cinematography in this film is also rather unique, bringing a gritty stylistic realism to the look of the overall film. There's a primary use of bold colors and unique visuals that emphasize the vivid world of Dobermann and reflect the lively characters that inhabit this mad world. This is far from a stagnant world and the director does an excellent job in matching the sweeping and artistic presentation of his camera movements with the overpowering color palette that he presents before us in all its gory detail and blood filled lust. Dobermann is definitely a film that makes you sit up and take notice as you're bum rushed with one impressively graphic shot after another.

Dobermann is taking care of business.

Of course, as I've mentioned numerous times, the violence is top notch in displaying this mad cop killing world that the director has set up. We are treated to explosions that send bodies soaring into the air, bullets that hollow out criminals as their blood is splattered against filthy walls, and there is also a memorable sequence where a motorcycle cop gets his head blown clear off from a grenade that is set carefully inside his bike helmet. These unique moments and creative sequences really set this film apart from other action films of this type. What this film has over the others is that it has balls and never holds back giving the audience more of what it craves, unabashed violence with a sense of cool style.

Flying shish kabobs, courtesy of Dobermann and his crew.

Another interesting aspect of this film, is in the character of Inspecteur Sauveur Christini. He is so driven by his lust to bring Dobermann in, that he ignores police policies and procedures and pulls out all of the stops to take Dobermann down. Christini almost matches Dobermann's ruthless personality as he tries desperately to find a way to stop his crew from succeeding. What makes this so intriguing is that there really isn't any true good guy in this film. We root for Dobermann and his gang, but they are far from the hollywood archetype of a decent or morally sound character. The society labeled good guys of the cops are also far from that stereotype, all having their own vices and lust for power. It's even safe to say, by the end of the film that Inspecteur Sauveur is in fact a full fledged bad guy as he brutally enacts his own form of viscous justice. Dobermann is a hard film with a slew of hard characters to enrich its landscape.

That Inspecteur Sauveur is hard as hell!

The overall tone of this film is grim, even though it has a very Hollywood style ending with most of the main characters making it to the end of the film with their lives. The effects of what they went through though and the friends that they've lost along the way, leave a morbid overtone to the closing moments of the film. It's a great spin on the happy ending that usually creeps its way into films and this new style depressing end is much appreciated and surprisingly realistic for such a fantastically over the top film. It's just another example of how Dobermann has the balls to change the equation up a bit and never hold back from an original idea that sets it apart from its predecessors.

Cassel, still cool, yet jaded by the end of the film.

Dobermann is one of the finest and most enjoyable rides you will ever take in an action extravaganza that pushes the limits of what can be put on the screen in good taste. With all its lavishly mad characters, fantastically energetic action scenes, and pulse pounding soundtrack, this film really lays on the fun with one heavy dose to your cranium. I highly recommend this to anyone that enjoys fast paced action films that up the anti in a wild display of bullets, blood, and personality.

4 out of 5 stars    A Balls to the Wall French Action Film With Guts!

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