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Counter Investigation

A police captain in the comfy Paris 'burbs conducts a private probe after his daughter's presumed murderer is convicted in "Counter Investigation." Somber, agreeably creepy pic's pedigree for Gallic auds includes a solid lead performance by popular thesp Jean Dujardin in a venture scripted by first-time helmer Franck Mancuso.

With:
With: Jean Dujardin, Laurent Lucas, Agnes Blanchot, Aurelien Recoing, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Jacques Frantz, Alexandra Goncalvez, Jean-Francois Garreaud.

A police captain in the comfy Paris ‘burbs conducts a private probe after his daughter’s presumed murderer is convicted in “Counter Investigation.” Somber, agreeably creepy pic’s pedigree for Gallic auds includes a solid lead performance by popular thesp Jean Dujardin in a venture scripted by first-time helmer Franck Mancuso, who wrote the 2004 Paris cop drama “36 Quai des Orfevres.” While pic seems longer than its brief running time, competently executed caper’s denouement is satisfying. Local crix have been mixed on funnyman Dujardin (“0SS 117”) playing it straight, but local returns have been fine for the March 7 release.

Happy in his job of 15 years and marriage to anesthesiologist Claire (Agnes Blanchot), Richard Malinowski (Dujardin) promises to take his 9-year-old daughter, Emilie (Alexandra Goncalvez), cycling in the woods. But duty calls: A just-busted informant needs Richard to vouch for him at Versailles police HQ.

While Richard is away, Emilie sneaks off on her bike to meet a boy her own age. That same afternoon, joggers find her lifeless body: She’s been raped and beaten to death.

Richard’s colleagues quickly arrest Daniel Eckmann (Laurent Lucas) who denies, then confesses to, the crime. Once convicted, Eckmann writes to Richard from prison to say he’s innocent. He urges the bereaved cop to conduct his own investigation centering on a recently arrested serial killer named Salinas (Jean-Francois Garreaud), whose m.o. seems to fit the crime.

Richard becomes obsessed with establishing the true guilty party, and even contributes to Eckmann’s efforts to be exonerated via a retrial. This doesn’t do much for his marriage.

Eckmann is so inherently sinister that it’s difficult to believe there’s been a miscarriage of justice. But the evidence Richard gathers meshes increasingly well with the idea of Salinas as the real culprit.

Mancuso served 20 years as a cop, specializing in narcotics, fraud and terrorism. He fell into consulting on a popular TV detective series shot at Quai des Orfevres (the central Paris police HQ) and began writing occasional scripts for the show. Eventually, he left the force and wrote “36,” a local hit now in the U.S. remake pipeline.

Adapting a Lawrence Block novel, Mancuso has turned an American story into a completely French one with relative skill. Downbeat tale lacks cinematic oomph in its visuals and cutting, but the sober intrigue is clearly delineated until the surprise ending.

Counter Investigation

France

Production: A Pathe Distribution release of a Pathe Renn Prod., M6, Epheme, Galfin Prods. production. (International sales: Pathe, Paris.) Produced by Romain Le Grand, Patrick Gimenez. Executive producer, Eric Hubert. Directed, written by Franck Mancuso, based on a novel by Lawrence Block.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Jerome Almeras; editors, Andrea Sedlackova, Franck Desmoulins; music, Krishna Levy; production designer, Max Legardeur; costume designer, Jean-Daniel Vuillermoz; sound (Dolby), Francois Groult, Laurent Poirier; assistant director, Olivier Bouffard; casting, Virginie Ogouz. Reviewed at Gaumont Opera Premier, Paris, Jan. 14, 2007. Running time: 83 MIN.

With: With: Jean Dujardin, Laurent Lucas, Agnes Blanchot, Aurelien Recoing, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Jacques Frantz, Alexandra Goncalvez, Jean-Francois Garreaud.

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