“Wow – ce qu’un étrange ride!” If you’re up for an urban crime flick that flits between styles as quickly as its main players switch allegiances, then Black is an invigorating, expectation-confounding pulse-pounder.
If you like consistency, rigour and sense from your Gallic genre pieces (a la Mesrine, District 13 or even angry Liam Neeson revenger Taken), this heist flick/pseudo-tribal-mysticism melange could send you running into your back garden in your pants ranting about snakes, lions and panthers!
Pierre Laffargue continues France’s current run of stylish, slick action entertainments by casting District 13 villain and rapper MC Jean Gab’1 as the Senegalese/Parisian hood of the title, tempted back to his motherland by a bag of uncut conflict diamonds stashed in a bank safe.
Black makes his entrance in a doomed-to-failure armoured car hold-up straight out of Michael Mann’s playbook, before an untrustworthy cousin dangles the tantalising sparkly carat and the action shifts to Dakar’s Tsotsi-lite milieu.
Unfairly billed as a modern nod to ’70s blaxploitation (this is no jive-talkin’ Black Dynamite, the main homage being the funk soundtrack), the quick-cut, split-screen Let’s hope the wind doesn’t change... editing makes Black’s new posse feel like the Ocean’s crew mashed up by Guy Ritchie. Led by Gab’1 – a charismatic and appealing anti-hero – the performances are BIG.
And it doesn’t take long for a skin-shedding arms dealer, machete-wielding hitmen and a sexy Interpol agent to collide over the twinkly rocks and send the tone and story into a whirling frenzy.
Until the wildlife sets in... Signalled only by a top-of-the-first-reel encounter with a shaman/tramp, the film takes an abrupt turn into magical realism when Black and Carole Karemera’s Interpol hottie join forces and channel their inner animal totems to take on François Levantal’s slimy dealer, who it transpires may literally be transforming into a snake thanks to his witch doctor gal pal.
As an incidental character says later, it gets “MYTHIC” and all reason is abandoned for cod-tribal hoodoo.
It’s one shift too many in a bumpy narrative and robs Black of a must-see recommendation – it’s so hard to pin down that even the lickety-split trailer (the only extra) can’t identify a unifying slant to promote the film.
Black is enormous fun until the breakbeats morph into African drums. The crazy final reel alternates between hysterical and maddening as it frustrates the confident work that preceded it. A strange ride indeed!
A mostly rip-roaring Gallic crime actioner with a totally bonkers Lion King finale that’s more divisive than Marmite.