BLURRED LINES

Moral cru­sades are at the heart of two out­stand­ing se­ries an­chored firmly in the mod­ern age

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television - Graeme Blun­dell Mr Ro­bot, Braquo,

Its many fans will be de­lighted that Olivier Mar­chal’s French drama Braquo — the ti­tle from the word “braquage” is slang from the Parisian streets for a par­tic­u­larly vi­o­lent heist — is re­turn­ing for a fourth and fi­nal sea­son. It’s been a long and grim jour­ney with the leather-coated cops of the Hauts-de­Seine precinct, which cov­ers the densely pop­u­lated in­ner western sub­urbs of Paris.

It’s also been a won­der­ful ex­cur­sion into a kind of French cop noir in which ex­treme close­ups and oblique off-cen­tre com­po­si­tions ap­pear with al­most ob­ses­sive rep­e­ti­tion, all em­pha­sis­ing the taut­ness and con­cen­tra­tion on which this genre de­pends. This is a se­ries that es­chews the leisurely es­tab­lish­ing shot and the sen­su­ous mov­ing cam­era, its pho­to­graphic palette a near­black-and-white com­pos­ite of muddy greys and soiled earth tones.

It’s a show built around frac­tured images that mir­ror the dis­in­te­gra­tion of its char­ac­ters. What Mar­chal gives us is highly in­ter­na­tion­alised — a hard-boiled crime show with an Amer­i­can look, but with char­ac­ters an­chored in the tra­di­tion of the great French thrillers. And while there are sub­ti­tles, the di­a­logue is brusque, the nar­ra­tive car­ried by the ac­tion, with Mar­chal’s mise-en-scene and sor­did images echo­ing those of the direc­tors he most ad­mires such as Michael Mann, Ser­gio Leone, Mike Fig­gis and Michael Cimino.

It cen­tres on a small team of tough, rule­break­ing cops used by their bosses when more con­ven­tional (that is, le­gal) means fail. The four are led by older heart-throb Eddy Ca­plan, played by Jean-Hugues Anglade, and linked by emo­tional con­nec­tions forged in their many il­le­gal un­der­tak­ings and the per­sis­tent scru­tiny by In­ter­nal Af­fairs.

The rest of his team are moody, ul­tra-cool Rox­anne Del­gado (Ka­role Rocher), who tries to keep the team tidy, and burly and bald Wal­ter Morlighem (Joseph Malerba), who has money woes and an ill wife. Mourned by the trio, es­pe­cially by the venge­ful Del­gado, is the psy­chotic Theo Vachewski (Ni­co­las Du­vauchelle), who was killed in an ex­plo­sion. Their neme­sis is for­mer po­lice­man and now In­ter­nal Af­fairs of­fi­cer Roland Vo­gel (Ge­of­froy Thiebaut), a nar­cis­sis­tic, driven bu­reau­crat, and one of TV’s great vil­lains.

It be­gan back in 2009 when the team’s men­tor and col­league Max Rossi (Olivier Rabour­din) was ac­cused of crim­i­nal mis­con­duct and com­mit­ted sui­cide. His guilt was then pre­sumed, dis­rupt­ing the lives of the other four, who de­cided to “cross the yel­low line”: do what­ever was nec­es­sary, even if it meant break­ing the law, to clear Rossi’s name.

In cross­ing that moral line, how­ever, Vo­gel had them in his sights, his scru­tiny be­com­ing ob­ses­sive and even­tu­ally mur­der­ous. It all went wrong, with fright­en­ing reper­cus­sions for all of them. Vo­gel, re­spon­si­ble for the at­tack on Vachewski, be­gan a crazed con­fronta­tion with Ca­plan through the last sea­son, look­ing to ex­ter­mi­nate the en­tire team. Del­gado set a trap for Vo­gel us­ing his blind sis­ter Erica (Julie Judd) but Vo­gel was a step ahead.

The fi­nal sea­son, di­rected by Xavier Palud and Fred­eric Jardin and writ­ten by Ab­del Raouf Dafri, be­gins with Ca­plan searching for a wooden box that con­tains Del­gado, who is buried at the edge of a for­est.

She is res­cued but hos­pi­talised, while Vo­gel wal­lows in the in­fa­mous La Sante prison in Mont­par­nasse. The team has ended a vi­o­lent feud among the Rus­sian mafia but is again un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion, this time by the stern Chief Su­per­in­ten­dent Henri Bra­bant (Thierry Rene) from the in­ter­nal dis­ci­plinary di­vi­sion. Ca­plan’s boss Michelle Bernardi (Is­abelle Re­nauld) has been de­moted. “Our best days in the po­lice are be­hind us,” she tells Ca­plan.

Worse, Wal­ter’s chil­dren have been in­tim­i­dated by Turk­ish war­lord Baba Aroubj, and an­other feud erupts be­tween the gang­ster and the cop. Wal­ter’s de­sire for vengeance is en­dan­ger­ing his friends. Vi­o­lence again spills on to the streets of Paris while, at the same time, Ca­plan is de­ter­mined to en­sure Vo­gel never leaves prison alive.

It’s go­ing to be a scin­til­lat­ing cou­ple of weeks as Braquo concludes, the po­lice thriller serv­ing as a back­drop to what Mar­chal calls “the grand themes of tragedy: friend­ship, love, be­trayal and re­venge”. The di­rec­tor is fa­mous in French film cir­cles for once hav­ing re­peated to his ac­tors what Leone said when shoot­ing Once Upon a Time in the West: “Act as if it’s your dy­ing breath.” That’s the im­pres­sion Anglade and his ad­mirable col­leagues of­fer us in this su­per­cool se­ries. The re­lent­lessly con­fronting Mr Ro­bot also re­turns but, un­like Braquo, is a lit­tle harder to grasp if you haven’t watched the pre­miere sea­son. How­ever, by the end of the first episode — it’s a two-parter with an in­ter­mis­sion — things are clear enough. Cre­ated by Sam Es­mail and pre­mier­ing last year, it quickly be­came the hottest techno-thriller on TV, cen­tred on the no­tion that in­for­ma­tion is the most valu­able form of cur­rency and those who con­trol it are the world’s true su­per­pow­ers.

Highly cin­e­matic in style, sea­son one in­tro­duced Chris­tian Slater in the ti­tle role of an anti-cor­po­rate an­ar­chist leader who re­cruited young El­liot Alder­son (Rami Malek), a so­cially awk­ward cy­ber se­cu­rity en­gi­neer for whom hack­ing is his only way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with oth­ers. His band of vig­i­lante hack­ers, known as “fso­ci­ety”, was de­ter­mined to de­stroy the mod­ern eco­nomic sys­tem by wip­ing out all debt.

It was a show very much an­chored in mod­ern world is­sues. Es­mail has said of the se­ries: “We’re mak­ing a pe­riod piece of to­day.” And his writ­ers were un­der strict in­struc­tions from the start: “What is go­ing on in to­day’s so­ci­ety and how do we re­flect that in our sto­ry­lines and our char­ac­ters? What are the mod­ern-day hu­man is­sues that are re­ally rel­e­vant to the con­text of to­day?”

The first sea­son fin­ished with the hack go­ing through, debt pos­si­bly erad­i­cated, but with­out ei­ther El­liot or the mem­bers of fso­ci­ety know­ing the full ram­i­fi­ca­tions of their ac­tions.

The new sea­son starts in fso­ci­ety head­quar­ters at the mo­ment El­liot presses the but­ton for the hack against E Corp — or Evil Corp as they call it — reaches into a pop­corn ma­chine, then blacks out. Af­ter a flash­back to his child­hood, when he’s pushed out of a win­dow into the snow by his father, we’re trans­ported to a month af­ter the hack. El­liot is liv­ing with his vig­i­lant mother, his life what he calls “a per­fectly con­structed loop”, his day pro­grammed with a re­lent­less in­ten­sity and mo­men­tum to pre­serve a sense of men­tal con­trol.

His voiceover nar­ra­tion, such a clever fea­ture of the first sea­son, con­tin­ues: “Some­times I dream of sav­ing the world, sav­ing ev­ery­one from the in­vis­i­ble hand, the one that con­trols ev­ery­thing with­out us know­ing it.” He’s now even more so­cially in­ca­pac­i­tated, though aware, he says, of “the in­vis­i­ble code of chaos hid­ing be­hind the men­ac­ing face of or­der”.

El­liot finds Slater’s Mr Ro­bot won’t leave him alone, in­ter­rupt­ing his regime, ap­pear­ing con­stantly at the cor­ners of his small uni­verse, taunt­ing and ca­jol­ing. “Our rev­o­lu­tion needs a leader,” he tells him re­peat­edly.

El­liot just wants him gone but the chaos keeps in­trud­ing: the banks are fail­ing; pa­per records are be­com­ing use­less; noth­ing in the cor­po­rate world can be trusted. His hacker sis­ter, Dar­lene (Carly Chaikin), sur­rounded by what re­mains of fso­ci­ety and em­bold­ened by the data breach, raises the stakes. An­other hack takes place against E Corp, re­quest­ing not only a mas­sive ran­som but that a “chief” ac­com­pany it. This takes us to in­ter­mis­sion and this re­viewer is des­per­ate to find out more. Mon­day, 8.30pm, Show­case. Tues­day, 9.30pm, Show­case.

Joseph Malerba, JeanHugues Anglade and Ka­role Rocher in Braquo

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