A gritty, multilayered police procedural written and directed by a former detective, “Gangsters” covers 24 violent, dicey hours in the life of a cop so far undercover that nobody has the slightest idea he’s anything but a hardened criminal. Slangy, well-cast drama holds attention through carefully doled out flashbacks and gives co-star Anne Parillaud a chance to resuscitate some of her “La Femme Nikita” oomph in the role of a pretty, hard-as-nails prostitute. Pic is acceptable fare for Euro hardtops and, with its snappy dialogue and shapely strippers, a nice addition to latenight TV slots.
Pre-title sequence shows Frank (Richard Anconina) deep in conversation at a Paris strip club with Little Claude (Jean-Louis Tribes), a no-goodnik who admits that, for the first time in his life, he’s truly hooked on a (nameless) woman — a classy number with a distinctive rose tattoo. Frank is an ex-con who busted out of prison in Italy and is taking his chances back on French soil.
Post-credits, Frank and Nina (Parillaud) are having crack-of-dawn movie sex when a veritable platoon of plainclothes cops with bazookas bust down the door and haul the pair in. Despite beatings, Frank refuses to talk. He’s obviously concerned about what might happen to Nina, but won’t tell the coppers what he knows about a missing briefcase of valuable gems swiped from a nightclub safe.
The bloody holdup left seven people dead. And in flashback, we see Frank was right on the scene when Little Claude shot his way in and out of the burglary. Half a dozen cops — each more hard-boiled than a three-hour egg — take turns trying to get Frank to cough up the location of the gems. However, Frank, a nebbishy-looking guy on the surface, is as tough and patient as they come.
Ambient tension and power plays are nicely handled by first-time helmer Olivier Marchal, who spent 10 years with the Versailles and Paris police before branching out into acting and penning police shows. Although the handful of women are a tad too attractive, the male roles are all nicely filled by talented thesps with anything but pretty-boy mugs.