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Black (2009, France)


Director: Pierre Laffargue    Starring: MC Jean Gab’1, Carole Karemera, Francois Levantal, Anton Yakovlev

This 2009 French action thriller has only finally found its way to the UK thanks to a very recent Anchor Bay DVD release, although you would be forgiven for not noticing. Released with little in the way of promotion it seems destined to be overlooked by all and sundry, a tragedy given that it is actually rather good. French cinema has been enjoying something of a rennaisance in recent years when it comes to thrillers and given that it was only six quid (prices subject to change without notice!) I thought it deserved to be given a chance. I’m glad I did.

Opening with an armed robbery on an armoured truck paying more than a little tribute to Michael Mann’s Heat, we are introduced to the Black (played by the improbably named and presumably big in French hiphop MC Jean Gab’1) of the title, a “professional” armed robber who is forced to flee when the heist goes pear shaped. While trying to figure out his next move he receives a phone call from his cousin in Dakar who tells him about an easy opportunity to steal a bag full of uncut diamonds from the poorly protected bank in which he works. Needing to lie low until the local heat dies down, Black jets off from Paris to Dakar with his motley crew of robbers in tow and dreams of an easy payday. Needless to say, all does not go to plan and he discovers too late that he is not the only one with his eye on the diamonds. Cue lots of shooting, explosions, fighting and other shennigans in the streets of Dakar.

It’s a bit of an odd film, blending an action packed heist film with a slightly peculiar, mystical subplot presented as a tribute to the Blacksploitation films of the seventies, a vibe reinforced with a cool funk/hip hop soundtrack (courtesy of Gab’1). The undulating cross-double-cross-triple-cross plot feels like it could have come out of an Elmore Leonard book lending the film a noirish feel to complement the Shaft in Africa fish-out-of-water scenario. On paper it probably shouldn’t work. Somehow it does.

Ostensibly a straight heist film for the first couple of acts it takes a funny turn towards the end and develops a mystical, tribal juju subplot into what should be a bizarre and incongruous climax that actually seems rather fitting. The fact that they get away with the more absurd aspects of the film hinges on the performance of Gab’1 who is strangely likeable and charismatic in the lead despite Black’s obvious shortcomings as a human being. Added to this is a strong performance from Carole Karamera as the female lead and the chemistry between the two is impressive which is just as well as without it the film could have fallen flat on its face.

Sensibly, Laffargue has kept proceedings rather tongue in cheek. While the action scenes are suitably dramatic there is a twinkle in the eye when the more bizarre parts of the plot unfold that invites you to join the fun rather than disparage it. Even the demented ex-soviet mercenary Ouilakov (Anton Yakovlev) manages to raise a laugh despite his threats of unspeakable violence and psychopathic persona.

It truly is sad that such a fun film is likely to go largely unseen by most people. As far as heist movies go, you could do a lot worse and it has an enthusiasm that overcomes the shortcomings of its weirder moments. In fact its weirder moments actually add to the fun lending a sense of originality to what could easily have been a formulaic experience.

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