By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) -
At first glance, actress Maiwenn might not look like a likely director of gritty police dramas. French audiences will likely be more familiar with her, perhaps for her long relationship with Luc Besson, while English speakers probably only know this:
Well… that is something
She apparently picked up a thing or two from her former lover, or, judging by his recent output, stole his talent outright. Her Polisse is hands down better than anything he’s directed since The Fifth Element, or maybe even Leon the Professional. The film followsParis’s Juvenile Protection Unit as they tackle the most emotionally and psychologically difficult policework there is. Unsurprisingly, this work takes a personal toll and these characters, and the film itself, teeter on the edge between effectiveness and breakdown.
Most of the cases detailed in this film are based on real events. For some, such as the teenager who thinks that giving blowjobs to recover a smartphone is a proportional response, there’s a hint of dark humor.
She might be on to something, but she’s thinking too small
The majority are anything but. Dealing with child and sexual abuse is stressful, hectic, tricky, and neverending, and Maiwenn’s in your face, nearly documentary approach drives that home at every turn. The nonstop caseload and the violent effect it has on home life would eventually come off as just exhausting under less competent hands, but Maiwenn spins it all into something incredibly powerful and emotionally devastating. If you still have dry eyes when a mother and child are separated in the second act, you might want to get that checked out.
She gets considerable aid from her actors, who are uniformly excellent. The real standout, though, is former hardcore rapper Joey Starr, who plays the team member who is unable not to take all of the pain and misery he experiences personally, and on a thematically unrelated note has some Barry White-level seduction skills.
I can’t attest to this carrying over to real life, but the roots of his amazing, affecting performance may have sprung from his own tragic childhood, and have manifested themselves in highly publicized acts of violence over the years, like when he punched a monkey on Live TV. If that sounds funny to you in concept, in execution… it just isn’t, and is impossible to justify.
Even as revenge.
The script actually does a good job of providing arcs for its large cast of characters, but it probably didn’t need so many in the first place. We grasp that his job is incredibly straining both in and out of the office the first couple of times the point is made, and it doesn’t need nearly as much reinforcement as it gets. A little tightening here and there and a fifteen minute or so shave could have delivered perfection.
This film has its weaknesses, and I can see adding a beer for repetition, but it’s so unflinchingly realistic, earnestly made, and heart-rendingly powerful that it’s impossible to deny.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: any time someone talks about regular, healthy sex
Take a Double: for the opposite
Take a Drink: any time there’s a verbal confrontation
Drink a Shot: for rollerblading policemen. Sigh…France, that’s not how it works.