The Stronghold (aka BAC Nord) is a French crime thriller from director Cédric Jimenez. The movie arrives on Netflix today, and stars Gilles Lellouche, Karim Leklou, and François Civil.
The Stronghold is loosely based on real-life events, and tells the story of a small team of police officers operating in north Marseille, amongst some of the city’s most crime-ridden neighbourhoods. The film focuses on the team as they become part of a significant operation to take down local drug dealers, then continues with the events that follow.
In the movie, Greg, Yass, and Antoine are police officers for the Anti-Crime Squad. They spend their days dealing with drug traffickers, thieves, and petty hoodlums, and work in some of the most deprived areas in France.
As a team they interact like brothers, watching each other’s back, but they are constantly under pressure from their superior who questions their tactics when it comes to arrests. While the team is concerned about keeping crime off the streets, their boss is more concerned about the costs they incur – wondering if the price of replacement car parts and domestic damage is worth a few arrests here and there.
Although they are under constant pressure, the team continue with their job regardless, getting in deeper and deeper as they prepare to take on a significant drugs bust. But soon they find themselves coming under investigation from Internal Affairs, who question their methods and their role as officers of the law.
In terms of the general aesthetic, the performances, and the overall tone and feel, The Stronghold has all the hallmarks of a good, gritty crime thriller. It understands how to convey danger and drama, and has been shot with a keen eye that draws audiences in.
But there is a problem with The Stronghold, and it is the simple fact that it takes far too long to go anywhere. The film is filled with style, but the story is somewhat lacking, and this results in a lengthy set up, with a plot that doesn’t really kick in until after the midpoint of the movie.
When The Stronghold does get going, things become very interesting, and the dynamic of the movie begins to change. But there is this overriding feeling that because it acts too slowly to begin with, time is now running out, and the film will end before it ever reaches its zenith.
This is such a shame, because there is a great deal of this movie that works. This picture is built around a sense of realism, which is very engaging, and with characters who are compelling to watch.
The central trio are excellent, and you can’t help but get invested in their lives – specifically as their journey begins to take a different turn later in the film. This is when the actors get to show more depth to the characters, with Gilles Lellouche being the standout star.
By the end of the picture, I felt like I was saying goodbye to characters I wanted to see more of. It’s just a shame then that I spent far too much time trying to figure out what this movie was all about, and how they slotted into it.
Overall, The Stronghold is fine, and has plenty going for it. If you’re a fan of the ‘00s crime TV series The Shield, you will see aspects of that show in this movie, and if you like crime thrillers then you will find something to enjoy here too.
But the film’s biggest flaw is that it is a little bit too hollow at times and this causes it to suffer rather than soar. Had a few tweaks been made to the first half of the movie, and had more time been given to the story in the back-half of the picture, then it would be getting a much higher recommendation from me.