Direction: Jean-François Richet
After successful collaborations with Vincent Cassel in the two-part biographical crime film Mesrine (2008) as well as in the comedy One Wild Moment (2015), French helmer Jean-François Richet re-teams up with the actor in The Emperor of Paris, a Napoleonic adventure he co-wrote with Éric Besnard. If the director’s previous effort, Blood Father (2016), showed his ability and predilection for the crime thriller genre, this new incursion into France’s 19th-century history offers him alternative resources to explore brutal action scenes and the mundane quests for power.
Here, he sketches a satisfactory portrait of François Vidocq, a renowned criminal and eternal escapee turned private detective. In clear terms, Vidocq (Cassel) exults with the victories but also cries his losses in silence, including his beloved lover, Annete (Freya Mavor). In all cases, he keeps faithful to the principle of always working alone, something that the ambitious Nathanael de Wenger (August Diehl), a former prison mate whose main purpose is to conquer the ‘streets’ of Paris, doesn’t accept willingly. While he becomes Vidocq’s worst enemy, the central character is coerced to join the police and undermine the underground world in exchange for freedom. Even loving the shadows a bit too much, he is given the choice to work for his country. Can he do it?
Treasons, unexpected alliances, cold assassinations, and dynamic fights are spices used in a recipe overcooked with a histrionic score and that sort of overworked production that may drive some viewers away. Nevertheless, the tonally consistent handle of the script and Cassel’s ardent performance make it moderately arresting and fairly watchable.