In 1983, "La Balance" made a pretty big splash in France and received eight Cesar Award nominations (the French Oscars). It won for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress. While it was nomination for Best Original Writing, the film's essence owes a lot to the gritty crime films of the 60's and 70's.
"La Balance" refers to a term applied to the group of informants working with the police. When one such informant is murdered, detectives Palouzi and Tintin go in search of a replacement to take down gangster Roger Massina, by any means necessary. They find Dede Laffront (Best Actor winner Philippe Leotard), a former member of Massina's gang and now slumming the back alleys as a low-level pimp. Against their will, Dede and his prostitute girlfriend, Nicole (Best Actress winner Nathalie Baye, who also played Leonardo DiCaprio's mother in "Catch Me If You Can") must jeopardize their lives and their relationship to protect themselves from both sides of the law.
While this film was nominated for Best Original Writing, it certainly owes a lot to the gritty crime films of the late-60's and 70's. The opening titles take us on a journey of the seedy Parisian streets littered with sex shops, hookers, and drug dealers reminding me of Travis Bickle's routes in "Taxi Driver". Many other references pop up as well: Dede mentions "Bullitt" during an interrogation and one tough cop has a poster of "Dirty Harry" behind his desk.
"La Balance" isn't quite as action-packed as it's more famous predecessors. Instead, it tries to focus more on the lives and choices its characters must make. Dede and Nicole anguish over either becoming stool pigeons or being thrown in prison. The beginning of the film basically follows the police's attempts at recruiting Dede to their side. The film does climax in the inevitable showdown between the good and bad guys, including a shootout inside a dank warehouse (ala "The French Connection"). A special mention goes to Tcheky Karyo, who plays Massina's right-hand man Petrovic in one of his first roles. He was nominated for Most Promising Actor and went on to play one of my favorite characters, Uncle Bob in Luc Besson's "La Femme Nikita."
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The transfer is sharp and clean without any noticeable grain, specks, or scratches. There is a definite attempt to replicate the look of the old crime thrillers, but it gets much more brighter in parts.
The audio is presented in mono with it's original French language track. The sound comes in clean and clear.
Despite all the acclaim in its native country, the DVD only provides a text-based filmography for writer/director Bob Swaim, a theatrical trailer badly dubbed in English, and liner notes.
Even though we get a look into the lives of Dede and Nicole, I think the cops got short changed. On the surface, they're desperate men pushed to drastic and violent methods, which is something already done many times. If you're a fan of movies like "The French Connection," you might get a kick out of the different homages, but there is a lot more that could have been done to take "La Balance" into a different direction.