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Tartan is back! Kind of. After a brief reappearance under the new Palisades Tartan banner with a disappointing Blu-ray release of Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance Trilogy, the once thriving foreign film releasing machine again went dormant, until now, with this release of writer/director Olivier Marchal’s 36th Precinct, better known as  36 Quai des Orfèvres, Department 36, or even 36. The film, which was originally released in France in 2004, is based loosely on Marchal’s real life experiences as a French police officer. The plot follows Léo Vrinks (Daniel Auteuil), head of the BRI (Brigades de Recherche et d'Intervention), and Denis Klein (Gérard Depardieu), head of the BRB (Brigade de Répression du Banditisme), as they hunt down the perpetrators of a bloody armoured car heist. The colleagues turn to enemies as Klein begins to muscle his way in to a promotion as Chief of Police. Soon Klein’s actions turn flat out villainous.

36th Precinct
An aside: According to interviews with Marchal, 36th Precinct was made partially in homage to the classic French crime films of Jean-Pierre Melville, such as Le Doulos,  Le Samouraï,  Le Cercle Rouge and Un Flic. The shadow Melville casts over modern cinema cannot be overestimated. His cops and robbers movies had an effect on the whole of the French New Wave, which in turn had an effect on the Silver Era of Hollywood filmmaking, and seminal crime films like Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde, Peckinpah’s The Getaway, Peter Yates’ Bullitt, Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets and William Friedkin’s The French Connection. These films then went on to define the genre, and inspire more generations of film. The New Wave crime films also lead to the equally stylish Italian Poliziotteschi genre, and had a sizable influence on John Woo’s pistol operas, specifically The Killer and Hard Boiled. In an effort to ensure Melville’s legacy means something to some of my younger, or less cinematically obsessive readers, I'll put it like this -– when Christopher Nolan made The Dark Knight he was admittedly influenced by Michael Mann films, specifically Heat, which itself (along with the rest of Mann’s filmography, all the way back to the Miami Vice TV series) was made in partial homage to Melville. So if we trace Dark Knight’s lineage back to the start it owes almost as much to Melville as it does to Bob Kane.

All that said, I think 36th Precinct looks and acts too modern to really be considered a child of Le Doulos, as Marchal admits himself during an interview on this very Blu-ray release. At best we’re talking a great, great grandchild of Melville here. If The Dark Knight was inspired by Heat, this film was crawled out of its afterbirth, like a discarded bastard twin. Besides pitting French superstars Daniel Auteuil and Gérard Depardieu against each other (two actors that are certainly comparable to DeNiro and Pacino), the film’s opening armoured car heist is practically a shot for shot remake of a similar, oft-celebrated scene in Mann’s film. Stylistically speaking I also see a lot of modern Chinese crime cinema here, specifically the Woo-inspired work of Andrew Lau and Wilson Yip. Regular readers probably remember that I’m not personally all that charmed by Lau or Yip, or even Mann for that matter, despite the fact that I understand and respect their value as filmmakers. Modern crime dramas just tend to feel like one extension of the exact same movie over and over again, and I’ve found myself fatigued by the genre. Only a handful of films have crossed this particular hump for me, including Matthew Vaughn’s Layer Cake, Kim Ji-Woon’s A Bittersweet Life, and (assuming it counts) The Coen Brothers’ No Country For Old Men. It stands to reason that a film that apes generally good films I didn’t really like in the first place won’t exactly be up my alley, and 36th Precinct doesn’t disappoint in terms of expectations. This does make me question the validity of my opinion on the matter, and wonder if perhaps this film could hold greater value to less exhausted genre enthusiasts.

36th Precinct
Tonally one could call 36th Precinct a dark and rough story, but this is a sharp, slick and clean vision of crime. There isn’t a lot of danger or shock here, just angst-ridden anti-heroes quietly making bad decisions, then slowly paying the consequences. The action scenes are well executed in that it’s easy to discern what’s happening, but I never quite felt the weight of any given situation despite some reasonably badass character attributes. Besides holding no sense of personal style, Marchal doesn’t appear to have a sense of humour either, which makes for an occasionally eye-rollingly stone-faced storytelling practice. I can’t recall a single joke, sardonic quip, or even wink to the audience (save the slightly wacky opening scene), and this dead serious droning spirit does little to cover the fact that the script isn’t only predictable and disjointed, it’s boring. By the time the final act rolls around the entire affair is so joyless one imagines the poor editor simply stitching things together to create a general sense of continuity, having long since abandoned any sense of creativity in favour of just getting the god damned job done. Worse than derivative and joyless, 36th Precinct becomes a chore.

36th Precinct


This release is far from the bummer that the Palisades Tartan Oldboy re-release was, but it’s not too far beyond the low expectations set by the rebooting studio. The big and obvious problem is edge enhancement. There are rather aggressive haloes all over this transfer, especially during the Michael Mann inspired cool exteriors and fluorescent interiors. Most elements in most wide shots appear to have their own white force fields at times. There is evidence of compression throughout the film, mostly culminating in low level noise, but including some occasionally embarrassing blocking issues. Details are relatively sharp, but so much sharper in close-up as to appear more like a very successfully up-converted DVD than a true 1080p transfer at times. I’m exaggerating a bit, of course, but the loss in quality from close-up to wide is likely noticeable even on a smaller set. What does work is the occasional complexity of elements, such as wallpaper or patterns on articles of clothing, usually because the overall vibrancy of colour elements (specifically lush greens and deep reds), even though the bulk of the film is shot using a relatively washed out pallet. Black and white levels are pretty clean, and contrast levels are pretty sharp (despite the edge-enhancement), but the whole film appears slightly darker than I’m assuming was intended.


The video quality falls short, but could be do to simple mistakes, and it’s likely things would improve with future releases. The audio problems are a more direct effect of the Palisades Tartan people failing more implicitly. The major shortcoming here is the lack of a single uncompressed track. The original French track is presented in standard Dolby Digital 5.1, not Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD MA, or PCM, and the compression is obvious. Our other two options include even more compressed Dolby Surround 2.0 French and English dubbed tracks (both of which are noticeably higher pitched than the 5.1 track, so I’m thinking they were taken from a PAL DVD). 36th Precinct is a modern film with a modern soundtrack, and the lack of volume and clarity even at high levels is a problem. I wouldn’t call the film’s sound design particularly aggressive or innovative (I’d even hazard to call it flat at times), but the more subtle aural elements are lost, and the bombastic shoot-outs don’t quite hit the raw nerve intended. The central shoot-out scene does feature a fair share of stereo and surround elements, and effectively sticks the viewer at the center of the action, but it’s a pretty minor achievement.

36th Precinct


Extras begin with ‘Making of 36th Precinct’ (28:50, SD) is a rather simple director’s video diary type thing. That is to say it’s a little boring, but does give a good glimpse into the day to day behind the scenes action (which looks about as joyless as the film at times). The frame is cropped incorrectly, and the subtitles are slightly cut. Next is an interview with Marchal (10:00, SD). Marchal spends the interview mostly revolves around his real life experiences, and how they informed the final film. ‘Weapon Selection’ (13:40, SD) runs down the process of picking out violent cop props for the film. Extras are completed with a ‘Wardrobe Run-Trough’ (14:20, SD), two trailers, and trailers for future Palisades Tartan releases.

36th Precinct


I may not be the best judge of this particular material, as 36th Precinct reminds me too much of other film’s I don’t particularly love. Who am I to argue with three César Award nominations (best picture, director and screenplay)? The bigger problem here is that Palisades Tartan has kind of dropped the ball on this release, which is a shame following their last release – last June’s Vengeance Trilogy collection – which put them off on the wrong foot with Blu-ray enthusiasts. This 1080p transfer is average, with some unfortunate problems with compression noise and edge haloes, and the soundtrack is presented in the form of a compressed Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The studio has more on their docket for the near future, so let’s hope these are merely growing pains, and things will come together when they get around to releasing better films.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray's image quality.