Directed by Jan Kounen.
Starring Vincent Cassel, Tchéky Karyo and Monica Bellucci.
Following a brutal bank robbery, the charismatic criminal Dobermann (Vincent Cassel) is pursued by the Paris police, headed up by the sadistic renegade cop Christini (Tchéky Karyo).
Coming off the back of his acclaimed performances in Jean-François Richet’s two-part crime epic Mesrine (2008) and Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller Black Swan (2010), Second Sight have delved into the back-catalogue of French actor Vincent Cassel to deliver a re-release for one of his earlier domestic films, the stylish heist flick Dobermann (1997). The debut feature of filmmaker Jan Kounen (director of the 2009 biopic Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky) and based on author and screenwriter Joël Houssin’s series of pulp crime novels, Dobermann is Cinéma du look by way of Hong Kong’s Heroic Bloodshed, forgoing plot and characterisation in favour of lashings of highly-stylised, hyper-violent gunplay.
Dobermann sets its stall from the get go, an anthromorphised CGI dog pissing over the title credits before we shift to a Christening where a baby receives a somewhat unorthodox present, a mean-looking customised .357 Magnum. It will go on to become the signature weapon of its owner, Dobermann (Cassel), leader of a group of notorious bank robbers that includes his deaf girlfriend, Nat the Gypsy (Cassel’s other half, Monica Bellucci) and a motley assortment of characters including a priest, a transvestite, a dog-loving knucklehead and a trigger-happy psycho. Together, they run rings around the Parisian police force, much to the displeasure of Inspector Cristini (Tchéky Karyo), a detective so brutal and sadistic in his methods that he makes Dirty Harry seem as ‘by-the-book’ as Dick Tracy. After Dobermann and his crew pull off an audacious daylight robbery, during which the police are humiliated and two officers killed, Cristini takes it upon himself to put an end to the gang by whatever means necessary.
That’s about as much-set up – and indeed as much story – as you’re going to get with Dobermann but the plot itself is largely irrelevant when its purpose it simply to take us from one explosive action set-piece to another. Cassel delivers a solid performance as the anti-hero Dobermann but the real highlight is Tchéky Karyo’s Cristini, a bona-fide bastard who revels in his depravity and thinks nothing of beating on women and tossing babies through the air in his obsessive quest to topple the gang. Meanwhile the supporting cast of stock characters are admirable, although generally they’re left with little to do apart from a few memorable scenes for Belluci’s Nat (who, rather surprisingly, keeps her wongas under wraps) and Stéphane Metzger’s Olivier, a cross-dresser who also moonlights as Sonia.
In a way Dobermann is Heat without any of the depth, the entire film building to a climactic showdown between Dobermann and Cristini, leaving the audience to take a back seat and watch as the unrelenting carnage unfolds. Dobermann comes across as one long music video, moving at a breakneck pace and packed to the brim with over-the-top explosions, shoot-outs and high-speed car chases that are almost comic-book in their absurdity. It’s paper-thin, but director Kounen employs almost every trick in the book to capture the mayhem and delivers a visually excessive and turbo-charged treat that makes for perfect after-pub viewing.