(Spoilers.) Entertaining, finely made French trash from Mathieu Kassovitz — the dude behind the badly made American trash, Gothika (2003/trailer) — that is great fun to watch and effectively thrilling but which falls apart completely the minute you start to try to figure everything out. Les Rivières pourpres is so nicely made that one almost wishes that the subtitles were to blame for such an illogical, hole-filled story, but truth be told, the faults lie all in the script and nowhere else. So ignore the lack of logic and enjoy the film for what it is: a well-made, big-budget, lightly gore-laden thriller with a couple of France's biggest and most appealing stars, Jean Reno and Vincent Cassel.
Les Rivières pourpres begins with Commissaire Pierre Niémans (Reno) showing up in some small French elite university town located in the French Alps upon the discovery of a mutilated body: the university's librarian has been found hanging by a rope off the side of a glacier, his body lacerated, his hands cut off, his eyes missing and the sockets filled with water. With the help of Fanny Fereira (Nadia Farès), the woman who discovered the first body, a second body is soon found embedded in a block of ice in a glacier cave. Meanwhile, in another town, the pot-smoking Lieutenant Max Kerkérian (Vincent Cassel) realizes that his investigation into the desecration of a child's grave and the break-in at a school's records room are connected. After a rather entertainingly laughable and totally out of place but well choreographed fight with some skinheads — that, in real life, supposedly made Cassel's nose even more crooked when it got broken by a miscalculated swing — the information he gains leads him straight to the university, where the man he is looking for turns out to be the second dead body.
The two mismatched cops meet, fall passionately in love and spend the rest of the film having graphic sex with each other.... Naw, not really — but it did catch your attention, didn't it?
Actually, the two mismatched cops meet and end up more or less joining forces to solve the case. Along the way another man gets killed and crucified, Niémans is pointedly not shot to death (instead the unknown, faceless murderer shoots around the cowering, helpless cop), and the son of the university director dies when he unsuccessfully tries to run the cops' car off the road. The two Frenchmen discover that for untold generations the university has been implementing the Nazi concept of breeding a super race by selective breeding, adding new blood occasionally by exchanging healthy local babies with the inbred idiots born to the "master race" of the university. (The offspring sort of seems to negate the concept, doesn't it? And how many children must a given student couple have to ensure a decent enrollment?) Seemingly irrefutable evidence is suddenly discovered proving to the two the very thing the viewer thinks they knew all along: Fanny is the killer! Off they run to the big hoedown high on a mountain, where the real surprise secret is finally revealed and a bloody showdown ends with the three survivors being covered by a massive avalanche.
Perhaps the novel by Jean-Christophe Grangé on which the film is based has fewer gaps in logic and a better, watertight story, but the movie definitely falls completely apart the last 10 minutes. Sure the unexpected revelation is a surprise, but the surprise is as equally illogical as it is unexpected. And the snow avalanche might be thrillingly presented, but it still seems completely out of place to the rest of the film — and against all realistic odds, all survive to walk away. But, for all its flaws the film is a jolly well shot and good suspenseful ride, so who really cares that the script is about as tight as an elephant's vagina? The cinematography is a treat for the eyes, often weaving deeply towards the realm of a horror films, and the direction is crisp and effective. If nothing else, Les Rivières pourpres is in no way a boring film. Nowadays, that is an accomplishment.
Les Rivières pourpres was followed a sequel Les rivières pourpres II - Les anges de l'apocalypse / Crimson Rivers 2: Angels of the Apocalypse (trailer) four years later that made even less sense and had even less logic, but it too makes for a fine evening of high class low brow entertainment. Love them Ninja monks.