The latest Netflix import provides a lesson in French politics along with some fun action.
Action films love using Nazis as the villains because they’re unquestionably evil, wear scary uniforms, and are fun to watch get punched in the mouth. Now that modern-day Nazism hides behind bad haircuts on television and schlubby dudes wearing hunting jackets, it’s harder to achieve that visceral thrill of seeing a Nazi get his ass kicked. The Takedown makes a strong attempt, though.
This French action film premiering in the US via Netflix comes at a precarious historical moment where right-wing movements are on the rise. One member just got uncomfortably close to winning actual power in France. The director, Louis Leterrier, makes a light and sometimes comical buddy cop movie on the surface. However, Stéphane Kazandjian’s script sneaks in some social commentary to chew on as we watch cars crash beautifully into each other.
It’s a sequel to the 2012 film, On the Other Side of the Tracks. That said, the original is hardly required watching to enjoy this round. Omar Sy plays Ousmane Diakité, a Black cop who doesn’t play by the rules (what movie cop does?). He finds himself a local hero in Paris after a video of him taking down an underground MMA fighting ring goes viral. It’s also our first glimpse into the film’s sharp satire when the police PR team tries to recruit him as a figure of propaganda. Their public image has taken a hit, “especially with certain demographics,” according to the police chief.
Sy is effortlessly cool here as a cop who doesn’t hesitate to call white people out on their ignorance. This forces the PR team to explain why they’re choosing him specifically.
Meanwhile, police captain, François Monge (Laurent Lafitte), is busy seducing his therapist. Monge is the stereotypical James Bond-type of movie cop who’s white, devilishly handsome, and drowning in toxic masculinity. Later in the film, when he and Sy share a hotel bed, he complains that he can’t sleep wearing his underwear. He literally can’t keep it in his pants. The script turns that on its head by humiliating Monge for his chauvinistic behavior. For example, viewers watch him struggle foolishly to pick up his car keys after creepily rubbing up a stripper with massage oil.
Stéphane Kazandjian’s script sneaks in some social commentary to chew on as we watch cars crash beautifully into each other.
The two cops reunite at a grisly crime scene involving a train and a body completely cut in half. The clues lead them to a rural province that plays like the American stereotype of Alabama, but French. The small, isolated area has gone through economic hardships. That and already existing societal bigotry leads the residents to get behind a far-right nationalist mayor, Antoine Brunner (Dimitri Storoge).
Monge’s characterization comes into stark contrast here with the mayor and his racist goons. Brunner hates that white men can’t be complete assholes and get away with it anymore, so he takes it out on immigrants and minorities. Monge, in contrast, also complains that men can’t have as much fun anymore but still asks for consent and treats his Black partner with respect and admiration.
Leterrier is a hit-or-miss director, but he’s light on his feet here in his native France. The action set pieces are breezy and fun but a little incoherent, especially a “car chase” that’s just two go-karts but filmed with the intensity and candy-colored headache of the Wachowski’s Speed Racer. However, the final car chase, using actual cars, is the best executed sequence of the film, featuring a great decapitation gag and slow-motion crashes that make you feel the crunch. Hopefully, it’s a dress rehearsal for when Leterrier directs The Family this year in Fast X.
Despite some gags that fall flat and a villainous betrayal late in the film so obvious, you can see from across the Chunnel, The Takedown works as a modern twist on an old action standby. Do yourself a favor and switch the audio to its native French so you can get the most out of Sy and Lafitte’s comic timing with each other. Then go punch some wannabe Nazis in the mouth.
The Takedown punches Nazis in the face on Netflix starting on May 6.