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'Escape Velocity'
Crux Cross Reviews a Cop Flick and Summons the Crackpot's Pig Stick
© 2021 James LaFond
dateline: 9/25/21
[Crackpot comments in brackets.]
Movie review.
‘The Stronghold’ on Netflix. Originally known as ‘BAC Nord’. A French film.
Non-spoiler comment: A 3 man squad of plainclothes semi-undercover street cops in Marseille, France. Great sunny looking place. the leader is a 20 year vet who can still run and punch and roll around physically. The other two are younger, one like a 5-10 year cop with an adorable pregnant wife. And the third the youngest, best sprinter, most believable in undercover roles. Mocked by the other two as a bit of a pretty boy.
The movie achieves escape velocity from the usual cop show plot arc of savvy earnest street cops vs. captain in the office holding them back with needless formal procedure. You know the genre, the cliched argument in the captain’s office, the inevitable bending of the rules in the moment, etc.
If it was just that, I wouldn’t recommend it. But maybe just because it was French and thus sufficiently different and novel, or maybe because it has a ... what would you call it? A third Act?
—————-SPOILER PART__________
In this third act, for the last half hour or so, we follow the cops into prison as they are preliminarily detained as part of a corruption investigation/prosecution. The three men react and handle confinement and prosecution pressure very differently, in an almost unpredictable way.
[More and more this will be the reality of the cop, never knowing when you were going to be declared the crook and locked up. This goes with the internal wasteland as the inner frontier of Modernity, where things once true in The Old West, like lawmen often being law breakers and/or law enforcers, may hold true.]
I thought the movie could have used even a fourth act, and wonder if a last quarter had been written in and ended upon the ‘cutting room floor;’ I thought there was a hint of foreshadowing that there was a whole ‘nother level of intelligence operations and conflict going on. To be blunt I wondered if the CI was a sort of double-agent working for whatever the French have for a CIA, and the real op was a stress test for the local marseille police, top to bottom. Or maybe that was the genius of it: to just hint at it.
[I like murky endings. It makes the film interesting for a second view.]
Also, while watching it, I experienced the phenomena I’ve had a few times over the years, generally while watching shows movies that are a cut above the usual. The phenomena is this: there’s a scene, or even just a character or a line that fits but maybe doesn’t fit imo. It’s like, did they make this whole movie just to have that character say that line? That politically charged sort of subversive line? This thing? Or was it the price of production? Jammed in after the fact on the artist’s conception?
[I just don't know how movies are made. It seems to me that writer, director and some willful actor might have storyline input, which could make for something less plot driven or unitarian than a story written by a single mind.]
Here in Standoff that thought occurred to me when there was this standoff between the cops as they made a hot pursuit that got cut off at the border of the projects. Like 30 Afro-N.Afro’s-Meds etc. —the gang running the project as a retail drug outlet, blockaded the cops. The squad’s car radio blares out orders from headquarters, like: “Terminate pursuit! Retreat! Return to base! Do not enter the projects! Return! Squad B respond immediately...” But the senior of the squad ain’t having it. Steps out. Big physical chest to chest standoff. Like the 40-ish cop can’t believe what it’s coming to in his native land. And the young huge black guy is like I’m sick of this pretend BS, we run this part of the world and have the horses to enforce it; these natives are weak and will retreat. Good drama but I was wondering is this real? Or artistic license summing up many similar partial real interactions? Or to demoralize some while encouraging others? To lock in this no-go zone idea as really real?
[In my opinion, many things go into storylines subconsciously, some for propaganda, some to sell a product or a profitable idea. I would suggest that the filmmakers have a source that knows that this stuff happens. In fact, it is common knowledge in Europe that cops in Malmo, Sweden have to be brought through no-go zones by the military to their police station. There have been no-go zones in Baltimore City since 2015. A no-go zone means that it cannot be breached by sub-military armed personnel, and has to be addressed by military or SWAT. As far back as 1991, I had a cop chew me out for going into a zone he was afraid to go into, for fear that he would be called upon to register my corpse and ask unfriendly questions of unfriendly people. A no-go zone is depicted in the First season of The Wire and was based on an actual event when cops tried to get into a housing project.
_______CLOSE SPOILER PART__________
Anyway, as you can imagine from me writing, I would be interested in your comments on the physical aspects, the cop-criminal conflicts, the turf war with the guys running the projects, the interaction between the cops who are different stages of life, and the officers, who don’t really get fleshed out but give out a vibe of ‘we’re from an entire different caste or level of society,’ and the universality of cops vs. different cultural outlooks. On that last, comparing this to that Brazilian movie about their hardcore favela infiltrating squad, —well, there’s no comparison body-count wise.
So, a medium level movie recommendation.
—Take care,
-Crux Cross

It sounds like a fun movie. And as much as i resent cops from my personal life, i have very often rooted for cops in movies. Like most real violent encounters between men with firearms, it sounds like we had a pointy negotiation in the one scene you are so taken with. On an individual level, the two men with guns trying to get their way are like heads of state with their fingers on the nuclear button—looking at mutual suicide.
The hard fact is that most criminal gangs have at least one affiliated police officer. He is usually corrupt but sometimes also undercover. Occasionally he is just a cop scout, a context gatherer. Many so called "outlaw" biker gangs have known cops riding with them. My two biker friends told me that the cops were there as spies that kind of provided cover too and also some goods, as cops would use gang contacts to fence stolen goods. Cops steal a lot of stuff from people they don't feel like having to do paperwork on and need criminal contacts to wash the goods. I have four friends who have been robbed by cops. It goes like this: "Look, tough guy, I could arrest you and charge you for having this, but how about I just get rid of it for you and let you off with a warning?"
Now, if that was me, i'd comply and have a good PIG story to tell. But if it was my Pulp Fiction publisher Richard Barrett, he would insist on making this meat-headed thug do paper work by pushing for his day in court. The result would be that Richard would be beaten up and then charged with resisting arrest! So what you get is a cop that is either going to commit a violent crime and pin it on his victim [Richard], or you get a cop who is going to take my $240 knife and sell it to a biker for $120 and get a blow job from a hang around girl at the club house.
Either way the cop is a criminal by nature. As the system the cop represents loses moral authority the cop is more likely to use criminal contacts to profit from his graft than to use the system to give his initial target the shaft.
Police officers are the single most common character type in TV drama, where they serve a propaganda purpose, and are almost always good guys. However, in the more artistic venue of movies, most cops are dirty. This is one reason why i detest TV programing and often enjoy the result of movie making.
Thanks so much for the cool review, Crux. i will try and catch the movie.
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