The recent spate of powerful euro-centric police procedurals to crop up on both terrestrial TV and Sky have managed to gain the approval of critics and audiences alike. One of these celebrated shows proudly wears its US influences on its sleeve while managing to retain that dark and sobering tone found in neighbouring programmes such as The Killing.
Braquo (season two is current being screened on FX) has been billed as a France’s answer to The Wire, but in reality it has much more in common with another cop drama from across the pond, The Shield. Not only does one of the Parisian police crew share more than a passing physical resemblance to Shield star Michael Chiklis, but Braquo is also cut from a similarly pulpy (and at times, preposterous) cloth as that series, which was set in the fictitious Los Angeles area of Farmington.
Much like The Shield, Braquo makes for riveting viewing, and when a sickened and stressed detective resorts to stabbing a suspected rapist in the eye during a (pre-credit) interrogation scene in the first episode, you know that events are hardly off to a bright start.
The series comes from the mind of ex-police officer Olivier Marchal who has behind French cops and robbers saga 36. Marchal’s creative career has, understandably, revolved around that genre, and if Braquo is reminiscent of that US small-screen show, 36’s English-language cinematic equivalent was Heat (it even starred France’s answer to that film’s two heavy-hitters, Daniel Auteuil and Gérard Depardieu).
Former Luc Besson collaborator (and the guy who made Betty Blue go all a-quiver) Jean-Hugues Anglade is Commander Eddy Caplan. A veteran officer whose maverick attitude has, through the years, brought him as much criticism from his peers as praise, he’s forced to turn to increasingly unlawful acts to keep himself and his team of equally law-straddling cops from being brought down by Internal Affairs (led by actor Geoffroy Thiebaut who, appearance-wise, looks like as if he’s been dug up from a similar, imaginary cop show from the 70’s).
Where Vic Mackay and his crew still managed to partly function as law-abiding officers in between their more salacious exploits, Eddy and the gang go from bad to worse, committing cold-blooded murder and numerous acts of arson, all to hide their indiscretions. There’s even a character to rival Walton Goggins’ livewire cop from The Shield, in the form of Theo (Claire Denis regular Nicolas Duvauchelle), a jittery and volatile cokehead who isn’t above taking on a bar full of hardened criminals on his own, or having his wicked way with the police nurse who’s suppose to be taking a urine sample for narcotics testing.
What makes the series so much fun is witnessing how Caplan and his crew manage to manoeuvre themselves out of some pretty tight spots. The boundary between realism and fantasy is often crossed in this regard (the kidnapping of Chiklis lookalike Morlighem by a gang of vicious gypsies manages to go unnoticed by his superiors and the rest of the force for an unrealistic period of time) but the tightly-woven plotting and unremitting suspense which Marchal manages to work into the narrative is enough to make you ignore any leaps in logic.
Some of the slick, US-sounding tough-guy dialogue also veers close to corn at times (the clichéd spewed by Caplan about what it means to have honour and loyalty towards colleagues has been heard in numerous incarnations, many times before) but the heart of darkness which lies within Braquo (from the crew’s decrepit operations bay, to the show’s downbeat theme music and score) is fascinating stuff and Caplan and his crew would leave Mackay and his team quacking in their boots if their paths were ever to cross on some transatlantic precinct exchange.