Blood on the Docks, Vol. 1 DVD Review: Murders and Mysteries in Northern France

What makes it watchable, even rather enjoyable, is the two main actors.
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You could say that I’ve been a fan of crime dramas, police procedurals, mystery shows, or whatever you want to call them most of my life.  From Remington Steele and Moonlighting to Law and Order and The Closer to The Shield and The Wire, I’ve watched thousands of hours of people committing crimes (usually murders) and cops, private eyes, journalists, priests, and little old ladies solving them.  

The best shows tend to subvert or break out of the confines of the genre and show us what its like to be a cop, or the humanity of a criminal, and say something more about life, death, and who we are as as a people.  Even the not-so-great ones are entertaining diversions allowing us to shut out all the very real suffering in our own lives to concentrate on one mystery or another.

I’ve reviewed more than a dozen foreign made mysteries for this site and it's fascinating to see how the constructs of the genre remain the same all across the world.  I guess we all like solving little problems and trying to figure out whodunit no matter where we are.

Blood on the Docks is a French series set in the Northern French city of Le Havre.  As the title implies, it is a port city and the series deals with the more working-class elements of society (and of course the criminal class as well.)  The set-up is pretty standard stuff for crime dramas.  Our two heroes are Faraday (Jean-Marc Barr) a strict, by-the books detective who follows the rules to the tee so much that he does essentially nothing to stop his own son from being arrested and questioned about a crime that he could have easily convinced the other police to not bother with.  The other is Winckler (Bruno Solo), the loose cannon who doesn’t mind bending the rules into pretzels if it allows him to solve the case.  Along for the ride is the stereotypical rookie who is leaning the ropes just out of police academy, an unsocial computer geek who solves the tech problems with the flick of his keyboard-stroking fingers, and the boss lady who is more concerned with politics and her own career than solving actual murders.

The show's best twist from the standard set-up is Faraday’s son, Lulu (Jean-Marie Hallégot) is both deaf and dumb.  Unlike most crime shows that like to periodically exploit disabled characters for the weirdness iy creates, here Lulu is a very well-fleshed-out regular characters who just happens to be deaf.  Another nice blend to the mix is how Winckler remains friends with a school chum who is now very much mixed in with local gangs and masterminds his own criminal enterprises.The two of them help each other out to the degree that they are able without compromising their own moral compass.

The rest of the show, however, is pretty standard stuff.  What makes it watchable, even rather enjoyable, is the two main actors.  Besides the cliche of having one rule-follower and one rule-breaker, the characters of Farraday and Winckler also have very trite personal relationships - Farraday has an ex-wife and a new lover, Winckler’s got a dead wife whom he periodically grieves.  Yet the actors make it work.  Individually they bring a light and life to their rather trite characters and together they have great chemistry making their scenes work well beyond scripts that don’t quite bring it.  The rest of the cast is more than serviceable and they create an ensemble that really works.

This DVD set includes the first two seasons of the series each of which consists of two movies than run approximately and hour and a half each.  Each episode works well on its own; one doesn’t need to watch it in order to understand what is happening.  Though like most of these types of shows, the relationships grow and change with each intervening episode.

Blood on the Docks never approaches greatness, and is weighed down by scripting that breaks past the confines of the drama.  But the characters are enjoyable and the actors quite good which makes it an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.

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