Wednesday, May 22, 2013

CALIBRE 9 (Review)

CALIBRE 9 (2011)

review by AARON ALLEN

Directed by Jean-Christian Tassy
Starring Laurent Collombert, Phillippe Burel, Nathalie Hauwelle, Philippe Bussière

Action, exploitation, and supernatural horror come together in the explosively entertaining independent French film Calibre 9.

Yann (Laurent Collombert) is a mild-mannered city planner working for a disgustingly corrupt Mayor (Philippe Bussière). As of this review, corrupt mayors are all the rage in the news. Toronto mayor and career idiot Rob Ford is currently embroiled in a crack cocaine scandal that's garnered international attention. As bad as that is, even Rob Ford's got nothing on Yann's boss. Not only does the mayor in Calibre 9 engage in the bread and butter of politics -- bribes, greed, and sex -- but he also organizes parties where the town's elite gather in masks and trench coats to watch female hookers and junkies fight to the death for their amusement. And poor Yann, disillusioned by politics but needing the money, helps facilitate all the mayor's dirty dealings.

Good? Bad? I'm the guy with the gun.
One day, Yann is given an unexpected chance at redemption when he discovers a gun possessed by the soul of Sarah (Nathalie Hauwelle), a murdered prostitute. The gun leaps into his hands and starts shooting with a mind of its own. Suddenly, Yann becomes an unlikely and reluctant vigilante. They make a good team, Sarah says to Yann, her soul speaking directly into his mind and heart. "You run, I shoot." Eventually, Yann comes to embrace the gift of righteous violence she offers, and with the help of a veteran cop with nothing to lose (Phillippe Burel), they wage a bloody war against the corrupt and organized crime that takes them right to the rotten core of city hall. Some lives, after all, are worth destroying.

Calibre 9 is literally a blood bath
Sporting what might appear at first glance to be a ridiculous premise (a man and a magic gun that talks to him), writer/director Jean-Christian Tassy turns what could be a played-for-laughs into an indie action gem with real heart and passion. Calibre 9, despite its independent budget, is an ambitious and incredibly entertaining action revenge film full of bloody shoot outs, exciting chases, explosions, and go-for-broke exploitation violence. Unlike standard North American action films where weapons are objectified as fantasy power objects, in Calibre 9 the gun literally becomes a character with her own history, thoughts, feelings, and flaws. Yes, the gun -- like most action movie weapons -- does grant Yann a kind of magical power and invulnerability, but it's not as glorified or without consequences as is usually the case in most lame-brained action films that Hollywood puts out. At least Calibre 9 has a built-in excuse for why the gun can fire so many rounds without needing to be reloaded: it's magic!

Who will be left standing when the dust settles?
Calibre 9 is also an action/revenge film with a political consciousness. It's not just brainless good guys shooting bad guys: Calibre 9 is an exploitation film that gives vicarious power and hope to the exploited. It's a story about the return of the oppressed minority and exploited socio-economic class tearing down the corrupt elite who have lived large by marginalizing the middle and lower class. In essence, Calibre 9 is a shoot-em-up with class consciousness. We need more exploitation genre films like this with a message and a heart.

Everyone said Sarah was a real pistol of a girl.
Don't leave thinking that things are all so dour and political in Calibre 9. There's plenty of humour provided by the exchanges between Yann and the spirit of Sarah. In a twist on both the buddy-cop formula and the romantic couple formula common in action films, Yann spends most of his time trading frustrated jabs and then romantic flirtation with his gun. At the same time, the mayor is delightfully over-the-top evil. Literally pissing on people and then later running through the streets like a mad man with an automatic rifle, the mayor is without a doubt one of the most entertainingly evil villains I've seen in an action film in a long time. When he gets what's coming to him, you really relish it.

Well, there goes his re-election campaign.
Not everything works in Calibre 9. Sometimes the hand-held cinematography is too shaky and the lights are too dark to see what's going on, and sometimes the budget can be seen in some of the less-than-stellar special effects, but at the end of the day, this is not what you're going to take away from Calibre 9. When the final credits roll, it's clear that Calibre 9 has joined the worthy ranks of New Wave French genre cinema with its charming DIY spirit and its genuine sense of morally righteous anger directed at the seemingly endless corruption in the world of politics. Merging the French spirit of revolution with the bombastic trappings of a good old-fashioned American action film, Calibre 9 is one of those little movies that might escape your notice at first, but it's definitely worth your time to seek out. Highly recommended!

Calibre 9 is now on DVD in Canada 
courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment.

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