Dir. Olivier Marchal, France, 2011, 102 mins, French with English Subtitles
Cast: Gerard Lanvin, Tchecky Karyo, Valeria Cavalli
Review by Matt Duddy
A Gang Story (Les Lyonnais) tells the story of Edmond “Momon” Vidal (Lanvin) who was the charismatic leader of the Lyon Gang, which pulled off some of the biggest and brutal robberies in France’s history.
Based on Vidal’s book “A Handful of Cherries” it chronicles his life from growing up in an Armenian gypsy camp to meeting the person who would become his lifelong friend and, in later life, his biggest liability, Serge Suttel (Karyo).
We meet Momon enjoying the spoils of his life. In his retirement, he has the lavish property and all the money and respect he needs. Suttel, however, has been on the run for the past 13 years and is currently working for a high profile drug smuggler. When Suttel attempts to meet his estranged daughter it results in his capture and incarceration. Realising that his friend is in grave danger from the police who are ready to interrogate him over his previous crimes and also the drug smuggler who he is currently working for, Momon debates wether to come out of retirement and help his friend escape prison.
The film then proceeds to flash back to several key moments in Momon and Suttel’s lives, most notably how they are sentenced to six months in prison for stealing a handful of cherries. Rather than rehabilitate them, prison has opened their eyes to what can be gained by breaking the law. Upon their release Momon and Suttel immediately begin working for a recently paroled gang boss who shared a cell with Momon.
After a series of successful robberies and upset by the meagre amounts they are given as their share considering the amount of money that could be earned, Momon and Suttel form their own gang and brutally kill all of their previous accomplices. Over the preceding years the gang continue to pull off audacious and bloody armed robberies in and around Lyon before going their separate ways.
Back in the present, Momon is struggling to come to terms with what to do about Suttel, should he rescue his friend? Should he put himself and family in danger? Whatever the outcome the bonds of friendship are about to be stretched to breaking point
Although it is based on true events, Gang Story seems to mainly contain scenes that have been extracted from every other gangster film, from The Godfather to Goodfellas, from Mesrine to Public Enemies, the source material has some quality storytelling to be told, however it is ex cop turned director Olivier Marchal’s desire to overdramatize these events that leaves Gang Story as a pale reflection of the greats that it is trying so hard to emulate.
A Gang Story is released on DVD on 23rd April 2012.