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  Marginal, Le He's a loose cannon, but he gets results
Year: 1983
Director: Jacques Deray
Stars: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Henry Silva, Claude Brosset, Tchéky Karyo, Carlos Sotto Mayor, Pierre Vernier, Maurice Barrier, Jacques Maury, Roger Dumas, Gabriel Cattand
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Marseilles is under the grip of ruthless crime lord Marcucci (Henry Silva). He deals drugs, kills whomever gets in his way, and flaunts his high connections at a swanky restaurant. The authorities call in super-cop Commissioner Jordan (Jean-Paul Belmondo) who immediately busts a heroin shipment and beats Marcucci’s thugs to a bloody pulp. Jordan winds up framed for the murder of a police informant and demoted to a desk job, grilling hookers and junkies. Nonetheless, he continues cracking skulls and cleaning up the streets, until mobsters target an old friend, whereupon things get personal.

Le Marginal is proof positive that, in the Eighties, Hollywood didn’t hold a monopoly on big, dumb, action movies. An episodic, uneven, near-plotless cop thriller, it was France’s biggest box office hit of 1983. Essentially a series of spectacular stunts held together by the slightest wisp of a story, a stately score from Ennio Morricone, and the superstar charisma of Belmondo. Things get off to a cracking start, with our man J.P. clinging to the side of a helicopter as he chases a speedboat. Past fifty and riding high following the biggest hit of his career (Gérard Oury’s superior L’as des As (1982)), Belmondo continued performing all his own stunts, but was injured while filming his incredible run across a busy motorway.

Le Marginal’s financial success marked the last gasp of the policier, a genre set to decline in popularity as the decade wore on. Just as Bullitt (1968) laid the groundwork for every cop movie that followed in the USA, the French policier established its rules via Georges Lautner’s La Pacha (1968) starring the venerable Jean Gabin: ruthless criminals, stark violence, judicial corruption, and tough-talking, two-fisted anti-heroes. Henri Verneuil’s Peur sur la Ville (1975) and Lautner’s Flic ou Voyou (1978) added Belmondo’s brilliant stuntwork to the formula and earned big box office, but by the time we reach the 1980s, movies like this and Alain Delon’s Parole de Flic (1985) become lazy, star vehicles.

Belmondo is really the whole show here. Beneath the surface, Le Marginal offers little beyond a celebration of his varied screen persona. Belmondo the lone wolf (waging a one-man war against criminals, crooked lawyers and corrupt cops), Belmondo the comedian (clowning around in a gay bar), Belmondo the charmer (romancing a beautiful prostitute), Belmondo the tough guy (bopping bad guys into next week). Sometimes his swashbuckling verve shines through, other times he seems on autopilot. Nobody else gets a look in, although Silva exudes shark-like menace throughout his limited screen time. Disappointingly, he and Belmondo don’t face off until the very end, and even then the climax is too abrupt and low-key. Belmondo re-teamed with Deray for Le Solitaire (1987), with fewer stunts (due to his injuries), but a stronger plot. It under-performed at the box office, prompting a returned to his roots, collaborating with arthouse auteurs like Claude Lelouch to award winning acclaim.
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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