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Jean-Louis Trintignant plays a French contract assassin hired by a Los Angeles crime family, ostensibly to perform a hit on some other mafia target. But simultaneously, as he arrives to do his job, a slaying occurs inside the household of the mob boss supposed to employ him. Suspicion is deliberately cast against Trintignant from within that very family. When he tries to flee the country, he discovers that his passport and luggage have been stolen. From that moment on, Trintignant is on the run from the police and the minions of two different mob families. What makes his escape hazardous is that the real murderer shares all the information known about him to aid in his capture and death. Written by
Jacques Deray's The Outside Man aka Un Homme est Mort comes from that curious brief period from the late Sixties to the early Seventies when Hollywood studios, United Artists in particular, were investing in French thrillers. This one meets them halfway, with Jean-Louis Trintignant's French gun for hire flown into L.A. for a mob hit only to do the job with ridiculous ease and immediately find himself the target of Roy Scheider's hit-man. Even more curious, as he finds himself adrift in the city he learns that the victim's family have given a completely inaccurate description of him to the police
It's not a very talkative film or overplotted (Ann-Margret gets the only other really substantial role as the topless bartender who comes to his aid), with Trintignant at times wandering silently through it as if in a dream as the plot slowly falls into place until even the police can join the dots. Yet it's increasingly fascinating as it draws you in with its own interpretation of classic American thriller tropes and at times This Gun For Hire in particular, seen through a foreigner's eye (the script was a collaboration between Deray, Jean-Claude Carrière and Ian McLellan-Hunter). The bullets fly, cars crash and the final reckoning's location is especially appropriate for a bloodbath, and there's quite a bit of black humour as well, from a scene with a hitchhiker who's swapped drugs for the cross or a hit-man crossing himself at a funeral and pausing briefly to feel his gun to Ted de Corsia's jawdropping final scene (which is doubly memorable as the last thing he ever shot). There's also a very impressive supporting cast Angie Dickinson, Michel Constantin, Umberto Orsini, Alex Rocco, Felice Orlandi, Georgia Engel and even bit parts for John Hillerman, Talia Shire and a young Jackie Earl Haley watching Star Trek on the TV when Trintignant takes refuge in his mother's apartment. Mind you, it could have done without the blaxploitation-style opening song and closing theme
Best remembered for Borsalino and La Piscine, Deray never repeated his American experiment and his latter films with Delon and Belmondo drifted into mediocrity or worse (it's hard to imagine a worse flic flick than 1987's Le Solitaire), but The Outside Man is a reminder that in his prime he had real talent and could conjure up a film as much mood piece as commercial thriller and make it thoroughly involving. It's the kind of film that deserves to be better know
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