I have been misled and thrown off course by press releases on numerous occasions and this is one of them as it begins by mentioning the films Shaft, Super Fly and Truck Turner and it soon becomes clear that this isn't a blaxploitation homage film in the same vein as Jackie Brown or Black Dynamite but a full-blown crime-thriller set predominately in Dakar.
Black begins with a fairly low-key scene in which a few guys driving a garbage truck are held up by some sort of strange 'Black Power' march, the leader of which fixates on the driver, who you later learn is called Black, telling him that he is the Lion and that he has the mark but needs the Panther in order to defeat the Snake. Clearly with something else on his mind and in a bit of a hurry, a man dismisses this old witch doctor and, moments later, you understand why as he and the other men in the truck pull out shotguns and automatic weapons in order to rob a security van of all of its money.
This heist goes badly wrong and the police are on the scene extremely quickly, shooting back at the robbers, killing all but two who escape but are blocked in on a railway bridge. When one of them is killed trying to climb the fence and jump onto a train, the 'last man standing' considers his options and manages to jump the fence and ride to safety on the train. Lying in bed, staring at the ceiling and contemplating his future, the phone rings and, as he picks up the receiver, the film freezes and then takes you back to events in Dakar a year earlier.
A high-ranking army officer deposits $18 million worth of diamonds in a bank in order to secure Senegal's future but the news quickly leaks out to a variety of criminals and warlords, chief among them is Degrand, an arms dealer with a skin complaint who agrees to arm a group of Senegalese mercenaries, led by vicious and ruthless Viktor, who is extremely unhappy at the defective cases of Kalashnikov weapons. With Degrand knowing that his days are numbered, he tells Viktor about the diamonds and he decides to forgive Degrand about the weapons if he agrees to help out in the heist. Meanwhile, Black is busy checking out the bank to see how easy it would be to rob, being guided around by Miss Gaye, who has been picked to replace the corrupt director, Koumassi, and sparks fly between the two.
With most of his men out of action because they are either hung over, have been robbed or poisoned, Black and his cousin Lamine decide to take the diamonds by themselves when they are in transit. Unfortunately, that is exactly the same plan that Degrand and Victor have come up with but they didn't count on a couple of extremely well armed Senegalese robbers who are also crack shots. Miss Gaye isn't just an ordinary bank clerk either, but an Interpol agent called Pamela and she teams up with Black, who now has the diamonds, handcuffing them together and putting the three of them up against an entire mercenary army.
I really didn't know what to expect what to expect from Black as the teaser trailer didn't give much away and the press release only outlined some of the plot was describing the style and in what films the principal cast members had acted before. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when it began with a beautifully orchestrated heist sequence and then the flashback section which cleverly establishes the diamonds, the bank, the numerous criminals and the arch criminal against who Black will eventually come up against.
As I was expecting something like an updating of Shaft only with plenty more weaponry, a modern soundtrack and French, rather than American actors, the opening sequence sideswiped me. It was clear that this was not going to be about someone 'sticking it to The Man' or a vigilante wiping out the pimps and drug pushers responsible for their close friend's/relative's death. Black is an extremely stylish crime thriller with plenty of well-used visual trickery (split screen, freeze frame with captions and flashback) but also utilises the African setting very well to show the disparity between the very rich and the very poor.
Of course, if you're paying attention, you realise as the film draws to its conclusion, the various roles that Black, Pamela and Degrand play and what will happen to them and it almost goes into video game mode with the visuals that you get the sense that director Pierre Laffargue is having great fun weaving a web with the labyrinthine script so that he can experiment whilst you are figuring out what's going on. It is a hugely enjoyable film which is full of the doublecrossing and various other clichés that you associate with this type of film until a complete WTF? moment at the end when Degrand's relationship with his witch doctor girlfriend reaches its logical conclusion.
Sadly, you don't get to hear from members of the cast and crew as the only feature that made it to this release is the teaser trailer.
Visually stylish and with excellent contrast levels and strong colours, this AVC 1080p picture isn't quite reference quality but it is one of the best I've seen in a very long time. The film has the whole gamut of different shots from a speedboat heading to Degrand's private island, the Isle of Snakes, off the coast of Senegal on beautiful turquoise water to the final scene with two black people in a black environment with very little light yet you can still make out the shapes and outlines of their bodies.
When it comes to the direction and cinematography, the work is top drawer with Pierre Laffargue and Patrick Ghiringhelli working very well with the special effects and stunt crews so that the car chases, shootouts and explosions are all extremely well choreographed and executed so they look great on film.
There are many moments in this that are loud, very loud with explosions and shouting and gunfire to occupy all six speakers if you opt for the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. If not, there is an LPCM 2.0 stereo soundtrack which does a fine job with the dialogue and score but is found lacking when it comes to the action sequences. The sound is filtered very well through the centre and front surrounds but it is lacking the 'oompf' that comes with a really bassy HD surround track.
When it comes to the score, there is a vast array of music from various different artists and some instrumental music that may or may not have been scored specifically for this film but it all manages to work with the gangster and criminal characters.
The optional English subtitles are clear and easy to read without any typographical or grammatical errors that I could see.
Black impressed me a lot more than I thought it would as I was expecting some sort of run-of-the-mill French gangster movie with obvious blaxploitation references but this is a whole new type of blaxploitation film and one that plays just as a thriller but with some genre themes and character tropes throw in if you want to look for them.
It is a shame that the disc only contains a trailer as interviews with members of the cast and crew and/or a making of featurette would have been extremely welcome but, even without hours of extra material, the disc is still worth a look.