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The Stronghold Review: A Morality Tale Too Hesitant to Look Beyond its Cop-Movie Cliches

The Stronghold (BAC Nord) by French director Cédric Jimenez premiered in the Out of Competition section at Cannes 2021. It’s hardly the kind of film you’d find on the incredible lineup of the renowned festival. However, a domestic premiere before migrating to Netflix (its true home) doesn’t seem like such a far-fetched concept anymore. While there is a risk that the French language film may be buried in Netflix’s rambling and ever-expanding collection, there is also a good chance that this will be the first success that emerges from the genre-friendly algorithm that Netflix has become famous for.

It checks off the majority of the categories that are important to the Netflix audience. It includes strong action that balances the crime-based tale in a back-and-forth between the cops and the thugs. There’s also a buddy cop element, which depicts the three main characters in a testosterone-fueled chest-thump. And then there’s the dramatic narrative that puts these characters in a life-changing predicament. Another story is that they don’t work in their entirety.

In any case, The Stronghold is based on genuine events that occurred in Marseille’s northwestern suburbs. These suburbs were divided into colony-like portions that used to have the highest crime rate in France. The film begins with Yass (Karim Leklou) being freed from prison and then jumps ahead 8 months. The middle-aged man is now a member of a team of three police officers on the hunt for a Candyman (a local drug peddler).

Opening with a sequence like that, in which Jimenez employs his frenzied camera work to put the spectator in control, should produce immersive consequences. However, as soon as the sequence concludes, Jimenez employs an American rap music to close the sequence with the frailty of these three cops. François Civil plays Antoine, a good-looking member of the squad who has a tight relationship with an informant named Amel (Kenza Fortas). When he meets Amel or returns home with his dog and a blunt, he hints at his loneliness. Greg (Gilles Lellouche) is the group’s hothead and is set to become a father with his wife Nora (Adèle Exarchopoulos), who also works for the police.

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There isn’t much spoken about Yass, but I have to admit that his screen presence is excellent. The three of them are bored of their daily grind, in which they either have to bring in local traffickers who illegally sell cigarettes or turtles, or they have to deal with individuals armed with loaded firearms. Within these colonies, these people are free to pursue their ambitions and conduct their drug trade. Yass and his colleagues are powerless to hold them accountable and must retreat like cowards.

This has tremendously irritated them, and while they are no messiahs-in-plain-sight (they frequently engage in unlawful actions on their own), they are waiting for something significant to happen to them. Fortunately, Yass’s friend and their superior officer offers them the chance to take down a large narcotics network. This move requires extensive organization, as well as bribing Antoine’s informant, who requests a cache of 5kg cannabis. The only caveat is that they can’t take it from the police station’s confiscated one. When they conduct the drug bust, everything becomes more heated, and all of their lives are put in jeopardy.

Now, Cédric Jimenez’s film follows a somewhat dry, basic narrative that will be instantly recognized to anyone who has seen a lot of American dramas or films that feature SWAT squads and other rumors. In fact, this has more American leanings than one might expect. The surface-level categorization is inextricably linked to a structure that arranges things in a linear method.

While the film draws inspiration from its French counterpart Ladj Ly’s Oscar-nominated 2019 film Les Misérables as well as the Brazilian crime picture Elite Squad (2007), the Americanized structure prevents it from becoming anything more. Consider Scorsese’s 2019 film Irishman, but instead of gangsters, it’s about a group of law-breaking cops. The Stronghold, like the final act of the aforementioned, questions these cops and their morality.

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The film, on the other hand, is never too eager to get started. While the drug raid is action-packed and helps to boost the adrenaline level, the film never takes a strong and clear-cut political stance. This is especially ludicrous given the film devotes a significant amount of time on these cops and the consequences of their acts, yet it lacks nuance and the bravery to delve beneath and beyond it.

The algorithm-loving Netflix audience will most likely leave right after the film’s huge drug bust. Following that, it attempts to express something but lacks the skills and political message to do so clearly. I believe Jimenez was motivated by a desire to learn what could be accomplished by going outside the bounds of the law in order to deliver justice. But there’s no way he could have done it here. But kudos to Guillaume Roussel’s score. “The Calm Before the Storm” is a song that thoroughly permeates the mental and physical space in which the film propagates, and I wish the writing and directing had followed suit.

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The Stronghold Review: A Morality Tale Too Hesitant to Look Beyond its Cop-Movie Cliches
The Stronghold Review: A Morality Tale Too Hesitant to Look Beyond its Cop-Movie Cliches
The Stronghold Review: A Morality Tale Too Hesitant to Look Beyond its Cop-Movie Cliches
The Stronghold Review: A Morality Tale Too Hesitant to Look Beyond its Cop-Movie Cliches
The Stronghold Review: A Morality Tale Too Hesitant to Look Beyond its Cop-Movie Cliches
The Stronghold Review: A Morality Tale Too Hesitant to Look Beyond its Cop-Movie Cliches
The Stronghold Review: A Morality Tale Too Hesitant to Look Beyond its Cop-Movie Cliches
The Stronghold Review: A Morality Tale Too Hesitant to Look Beyond its Cop-Movie Cliches
The Stronghold Review: A Morality Tale Too Hesitant to Look Beyond its Cop-Movie Cliches
The Stronghold Review: A Morality Tale Too Hesitant to Look Beyond its Cop-Movie Cliches
The Stronghold Review: A Morality Tale Too Hesitant to Look Beyond its Cop-Movie Cliches
The Stronghold Review: A Morality Tale Too Hesitant to Look Beyond its Cop-Movie Cliches

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