Though not so well known outside France, the real Vidocq was a legendary petty criminal who rose through society's ranks by going from poacher to gamekeeper and becoming a celebrated - and controversial - policeman (he's often held as the inspiration for both Valjean and Javert in Les Miserables, though he wasn't exactly a paragon of moral reformation). But this Gerard Depardieu film is no historical reconstruction, more an outlandish reimagination, planting its real-life antihero in the middle of an effects heavy dark action movie that plays like an 18th century French Fu Manchu film with a supernatural villain set against a background of impending revolution as the great and the good start to die in lightning-related accidents as part of a sinister alchemist's search for the secret of immortality. So, not a documentary then. It can be silly, but it is also great fun, with even the digital look less irritating than usual. It's strange to think that at the time Depardieu's stock had fallen so much that he only got the role when Daniel Auteuil had a scheduling clash and had to drop out, and sadder to note that despite making a promising and stylishly energetic directorial debut here, former special effects man Pitof's was promptly guillotined by the dire Catwoman.
The French DVD offers a nice widescreen transfer with English subtitles, though none of the extras on either the single disc or two-disc release have English subtitles.