Director: Jan Kounen
Screenplay: Joël Houssin
Starring: Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci, Tchéky Karyo, Antoine Basler
Country: France
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1997
BBFC: 18 

The words you will undoubtedly hear used to describe Dobermann from those who have seen it will be “exhilarating”. I cannot think of a more suitable adjective for the wonderfully insane world that director Jan Kounen and writer Joel Houssin have created here. This film is nonstop from the get-go. Starring the great Vincent Cassel as Yann Lepentrec, a ruthlessly excellent crook with a deaf partner-in-crime known as Nathalie dit Nat la Gitane, played by Monica Bellucci, Dobermann follows the misadventures of the duo along with their bizarre pack of fellow thieves as a bank heist turns into a bloodbath. A sadistic cop, played by Tchéky Karyo, stops at nothing to try and take them down once and for all.

Beginning with a.. unique CG opening of a Dobermann hound (dressed in a trench coat wielding two pistols) urinating over the title credits, you get the impression rather quickly of what type of film you’re on board for. And let me tell you, the insanity barely lets up. While the characters aren’t exactly complex, the introduction to the Dobermann himself as a newborn baby cradling a revolver is hilarious.  And soon after, the film stylistically transitioning into a devilishly cool Vincent Cassel robbing a transport van is just as entertaining as you can imagine. His entire personality is summed up here. Cocky and cool. That’s about all you get.

Bellucci, who plays the deaf partner & love interest of the Dobermann, is having a blast relying on her outrageous outfits and facial expressions, but I still felt like she was somewhat wasted here and could have used more screen time. The star of the show for me, besides the visuals, was Tchéky Karyo playing the very definition of a crooked cop. Genuinely evil, despicable, obsessive, a fantastic villain whose final showdown includes one of the more memorable climaxes I’ve seen from an action film in a very long time.

With zany character after zany character introductions and some seriously “of the time” 90’s editing techniques, the realisation sets in that you’re essentially watching a live-action cartoon. The camera’s kineticism and a pulse-pounding score by The Prodigy create a feeling akin to an adrenaline rush from a rusty fairground ride. The ride is a little dated, starts fast but slows down in the middle, and leaves you feeling somewhat dizzy when the restraints go up.

There is undoubtedly some leeway after the explosive central heist, in which one too many one-note characters are introduced. Still, the pace eventually picks back up in a spectacularly choreographed sequence set within a latex techno club. The camera glides, flies and zips around, attempting to keep up with the frantic action on display, it’s not very coherent, but it sure looks cool.

I often see the argument regarding films of this magnitude that a picture with a specific focus on visuals and entertainment rather than writing and storytelling is style over substance, but I would argue that style is substance. I’m not going to pretend that I was engaged with the cartoonish characters or the exceptionally bare-bones plot; however, the high energy and bursts of creative film-making on display are a sight to behold. While there is undoubtedly some middle act downtime, this is one hell of a fun ride. Take a hint of Heat and a dash of Natural Born Killers, mixed in with a small ounce of Bonnie and Clyde, and you have yourself a bonafide late 90’s cult-crime crowd pleaser.

Blue Finch Film Releasing presents Dobermann in Cinemas and on Digital Download on 13 May.

Dobermann (1997)
3.0Overall Score
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