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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
Hit man Jean-Louis Trintignant finds himself the target of Roy Scheider
"The Outside Man" (1972) is a favorite neo-noir of mine, directed and co-written by French director, Jacques Deray, and starring Jean-Louis Trintignant. More than being a favorite, it is a very fine film, bringing out the best in its cast and locations, while thoughtfully, humanly, and sometimes humorously displaying a chaotic and unstable world in which the characters move.
Deray did many fine French neo-noirs in his career, and Trintignant's career makes him a major film star. To quote one source, "...(Trintignant) is a thoughtful and enigmatic actor whose watchful screen presence and skill at portraying troubled characters has been used to great effect in some of the most intelligent and morally complex films of French and Italian cinema."
For much of this film, Deray employs dark late-afternoon color lighting. Trintignant is frequently heavily shadowed or in darkness or semi-darkness. Later in the film, the action opens up into more sunshine. He is a shadowy hit man, called in from Paris to kill mob boss (Ted de Corsia), whose wife (Angie Dickinson) and son (Umberto Orsini) have set him up. Afterward, they intend for hit man Roy Scheider to kill Trintignant, but he escapes and goes on the run in the Los Angeles landscape, so very foreign and unfamiliar to him. Scheider has very few lines, but he's immensely effective. The same is true of Orsini and Dickinson. Even de Corsia's handful of lines make an impression, and even more does the way his body is prepared for the memorial service. Michel Constantin is always welcome to see in any underworld film. Ann-Margret is a woman who's on the wrong end of a topless bar owned by the mob and wants one more chance, preferably with Trintignant whom she helps. The brief presence in this film of Burt Reynolds as a biker goes uncredited and also unmentioned in a list of his films on IMDb, but he's there. Georgia Engel provides subtle satire as an ordinary single mom who relishes the TV spotlight after being confronted by both Trintignant and Scheider.
The whole effort gels into a terrific 70s neo-noir under the sure hand of Deray. The screenplay never flags, as Trintignant faces one obstacle and unexpected development after another. Every scene maintains tension and interest, even when the focus is on some character not essential to the basic plot like a hitchhiker selling Jesus or bikers who lead Trintignant away from where he wants to go.
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