The Code

For the love of a good woman, a longtime crook tries to get out of the life... but they keep dragging him back in. Writer-director Manuel Boursinhac and cowriter Bibi Naceri graft what must be the oldest gangster-movie cliche in existence onto a less-familiar setting, an underclass of French-born and/or raised Arabs, gypsies, Spaniards and North Africans...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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For the love of a good woman, a longtime crook tries to get out of the life... but they keep dragging him back in. Writer-director Manuel Boursinhac and cowriter Bibi Naceri graft what must be the oldest gangster-movie cliche in existence onto a less-familiar setting, an underclass of French-born and/or raised Arabs, gypsies, Spaniards and North Africans caught between two cultures and mired in street loyalties that keep them marginalized, angry and always in the middle of some potentially lethal feud. Dris (Samuel Le Bihan) is fresh out of prison, working a menial job and trying to conceive a child with his bourgeois fiancee, Lise (Marie Guillard), who waited patiently while he served his time but won't do it a second time. Dris' parents, Arab immigrants, are supportive but have their hands full with Dris' hot-headed younger brother, Mel (David Saracino), a teenage car thief who wants to be a big-time gangster like his mad-dog cousin, Yanis (Samy Naceri, Bibi's brother). Yanis wants Dris back in the game, as does Dris' sultry, ruthless ex-girlfriend, Nina (Clothilde Courau). Ironically, Dris' efforts to extricate would-be drug dealer Mel from an ill-considered turf-war with the much tougher Marco (Thierry Perkins-Lyautey) bring him back into the fold: Honest sweat, low pay and drab little Lise's tough love don't stand a chance against the allure of flashy clothes, sharp cars, Nina's gypsy wiles and Yanis' macho camaraderie. Almost before he knows it, Dris is in the thick of things. Yanis helps an old friend's former cellmate fend off a takeover bid by veteran villain Feche (Michel Duchaussoy). Feche, the muscle behind Marco's dope ring, retaliates by pretending to recruit Mel and his friend Jose (Adrien Saint-Jore) to move some drugs, then turning against the rookies. Yanis orders the kidnapping of Feche's right-hand man (Stephane Ferrara), and the gang war is on and escalating. Boursinhac and Bibi Naceri throw all the usual elements into the pot: Economic inequality, ethnic tensions, feverish family ties and the titular criminal code, which everyone invokes and everyone agrees is a load of claptrap. But their unpredictable deviations from the formula, like the scene in which Dris demands that Yanis explain how he can take life so casually, keep the film interesting: It takes nerve to ignore the fashion for glib cynicism and ask a nakedly moral question as though the answer mattered.

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  • Released: 2003
  • Rating: R
  • Review: For the love of a good woman, a longtime crook tries to get out of the life... but they keep dragging him back in. Writer-director Manuel Boursinhac and cowriter Bibi Naceri graft what must be the oldest gangster-movie cliche in existence onto a less-famil… (more)

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