Le Samouraï (1967) Poster

(1967)

User Reviews

Review this title
109 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
10/10
Along with 'The Wizard of Oz', the supreme film about the longing for home.
Alice Liddel7 December 2000
Warning: Spoilers
To see how beautiful, moving, exciting and astonishing Melville's 'Le Samourai' is, to recognise it as one of the greatest films ever made, arguably the most perfect, it is necessary to forget everything you've been told about it. If you've been told nothing, than you are very lucky; the first time I saw I knew nothing either, and it was a revelation - I came out of the cinema with huge goggle eyes - cinema can do THAT?! I absorbed every Melville film I could find (they are VERY hard to get), and read every article or book about him. My love grew to uncontrollable passion. But a lot cliches and received truths have grown up around his work, and this sublime miracle especially.

The most obvious is the director's obsession with American cinema. That his films are mere tributes to American cinema, or stern deconstructions of them. It is true that Jef Costello wears the classic film noir garb of mac and derby, but so do at least 400 men in Paris. And it is true that Melville rigorously exposes the myth of the gangster, but, most importantly, of masculinity and its power.

Elaborate theories of psychoanalysis are usually brought in here, the idea that Jef begins the film 'whole', looking at the mirror; during the course of the narrative he loses this self-sufficient image, cracking up as it fragments, split by mirrors, trapped behind bars (although the halved banknotes he consciously plays with at the beginning might qualify this).

Others comment on the film less as a gangster film than a dramatisation of particular philosophies. Some see Jef as an example of existentialist man, a man who does not exist except through his acts - the film patiently records endless scenes of Jef walking, staring, preparing for his jobs etc. His final ritual is a preparation for his death; as existentialism suggests, friends, social purpose etc. fall away, and one is left alone with one's fate.

Or as an expression of fatalistic Orientalist ethics (the film IS called 'Le Samourai') concerning solitude and the inevitability of death. Melville himself offered two possible interpretations - as a study in schizophrenia, and as an allegory of Man (Jef) pursued by Destiny (the Inspector) into the arms of Death (Valerie, the pianist).

All of these, of course, are valid interpretations. I am more sympathetic to those who see 'Samourai' as a dream, a study in solitude, or a portrait of mental breakdown. The film's action takes place largely at night; there is a frequently oneiric tone to Melville's style, the endless walking, the silence, the deliberate paring down of the mise-en-scene to near-monochrome. Jef's impassivity is comparable to that of a somnambulist, walking mechanically down countless corridors. As in a dream, whole sequences are repeated in exactly the same way. We keep returning to the same few locales. The film opens with Jef lying smoking in bed, in the dark; one powerful scene is Jef waking up after he has bandaged his wounded arm - has he had a nightmare, or is it the sound of a passing truck?

'Samourai' is also much more moving as a story of solitude than Antonioni's entire oeuvre put together. The only sure thing in this strange and enigmatic film is Jef's loneliness, living with his only friend, a caged bullfinch (usually a symbol of female entrapment) in a dismally run-down, sparse grey bedsit, prey to any intruders. Although he is constantly forced into the centre of the city by work and the police, he is safer on the margins, in anonymous streets, abandoned railway yards, disused buildings. Or at least he was before all the trouble started.

He is defined against the grim, geometric anonymity of modern life, his milieu as soulless and constricting as the plot he moves in, the elevator shafts that imprison him. He is the image of man in a surveillance society, an innocent man (until proven guilty) having his every move followed by a police happy to use morality as a threat (many people see Melville's films as sublimated allegories of France under the Occupation).

His only contact with people is in the preparation of death; his is a sterile, self-negating existence, ascetic as a monk (his uniform as ritual vestments). That Jef is a tragically lonely man is undoubted. There are two heartbreaking moments in this cool, austere film, when emotion breaks Alain Delon's astonishing performance, the most beautiful man in the movies letting slip just like the stills moving in 'La Jetee': when he goes back to the scene of the crime and looks at the pianist; his face for a brief second seems absolutely distraught, helpless, a child looking for a mother to reassure him (this is the key to the film, I believe, Jef the lonely wanderer searching for home); the second, after the celebrated Metro chase, in the stolen car, his face, for a moment, betraying hear-beating terror. At these moments, allegories and theories simply break down.

Jef's mental breakdown is, of course, linked to all this. Over the credits, Jef smokes alone in his bedroom, barely visible - the two bright windows look like eyes, as in Beckett's 'End Game', a figure for the mind, a mind at the end of its tether as seen by Melville's horizontal use of Hitchcock's famous 'Vertigo' shot, contracting and constricting the room to breaking point, revealing the instability of this 'safe' haven, and Jef's image of himself.

Mental deterioration is usually a subject of horror movies - the score features frequent bursts of chilling organ; when Jef goes to collect his car and gun for the contract, his accomplice, lit by a lamp, looks like a terrifying spirit. Jef is a trapped character, in his room, identity, plot; by the police and the gangsters; by geography, shadows, corridors; by the loop of time that forces him to return again and again to the same point - he is in hell; the only way out is self extinction.

It is important not to see Melville as child of Sartre, which limits him, but of Nabokov, whose complex procedures of ludic expression find a cinematic equivalent in his work - it is vitally important not to take him at face value. Jef's shooting of Rey - impossible, magical - is pure Nabokov.

I could go on - the Benjaminian idea of the flaneur and Paris; the extraordinary, near-futuristic sets; the comedy (e.g. see who Jef rides with in the police van answering to the same description); its remarkable analysis of the gaze; the brilliance of its action and suspense mechanics; the running motif of the theatre, performing, acting (in both senses) - Jef's costume; the line-up in a theatre-like space; the closing 'show is over' drum-roll.

Everything about this film, as John Woo noted, is perfect, but there is one sequence, breaking with Melville's calm, distant style throughout, that I would list on my ten best ever - as Jef goes to collect the cash and is instead faced with a gun - firstly he faces the audience; we could be no closer. Then, just as the struggle begins, Melville cuts away, his camera manically panning away from the action behind bridge grills, following Jef as he runs and ineffectually chases his assailant's car. It is a heartstopping moment in a film still too little known. I've just watched it twice in two days; I really must watch it again.
182 out of 233 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
Melville's masterpiece is pure seduction...
i-grigoriev24 October 2004
This film starts off with the same sound like Sergio Leone's 'C'era un volta il west', but it's just that here the sound is made not by a plate, but a canary, the cold-blooded killer's canary.

This film was made in 1967, the French nouveau vague already apparent all over the place, but with much more subtle undertones than, say, a work by Truffaut.

No, Melville's films were old-school, but at the same time revolutionary, in a delicate way. Take for example the 'chase' scene through the Metro. Practically nothing happens: there are no gunfights, no combat sequences, perhaps just a small chase. But it is Melville's camera and Delon's inimitable performance that keep the audience mesmerized all the way.

The camera practically flirts with the audience throughout the whole movie, picking the most interesting angles and achieving so much practically without any effort. Delon's character changes his expression only once or twice during the movie, shoots faster than even Leone's gunslingers and never forgets to feed his canary. To me, one of the most accomplished antiheroes of the whole genre.

The dialogue is barely there, but when it is, then it's something you'd probably wish you would have come up with yourself. It is a minimalist work that achieves the absolute maximum. Simply put: one of the best crime noirs ever made.
93 out of 118 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
Melville's Masterpiece
riskbreaker11331 October 2005
I just recently saw this film for the first time (a la Criterion) and I was completely blown away. This film can be summed up with a single word: minimalism.

This is a work of true cinema. Hollywood tends to forget that cinema is first and foremost a visual art. Le Samurai is a film that could've been made as a silent movie. The director establishes meaning not with dialog but with the best tools available to a director; editing, mise en scenes, cinematography and composition. There is a constant feeling of solitude and isolation. Even when the protagonist finds himself in large groups, his face is pale, his eyes are cast downward and he is still a constant outsider.

On another note, the film looks surprisingly modern. There's none of the graininess of many other 60s and 70s films. Rather, the lighting and the whole visual aesthetic is pitch perfect, from the black and white nightclub (dualism) to the sparse gray apartment to the subterranean eeriness of the Paris subway.

Personally, I would not recommend this film to people not interested in real cinema, people who like 'movies' rather than 'film', simply because there's a strong possibility it will seem extremely annoying and boring to you. On the other hand, if you're a fan of serious cinema, do yourself a favor and watch this film.
72 out of 99 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
An ultra stylized icon of urban cool
Camera Obscura2 June 2006
Melville's masterpiece about a contract killer, a modern day samuraï. He makes brilliant use of the city he loved so much, Paris. The feel, the sounds, the streets, the noise, it's all hauntingly cold and distant but at the same time he makes Paris seem like the coolest city in the world.

In the beginning of the film Melville uses a beautiful static shot of over 4 minutes to establish the audience with a seemingly empty room, then we see smoke circling upwards. There must be someone in the room but it's practically impossible to determine where the smoke is coming from. Finally Jeff Costello gets up from his bed, which wasn't recognizable as such in the first place, and appears on screen. The whole set-up is more reminiscent of a moving replica of a painting by the surrealist Paul Delvaux than anything else in modern cinema. Another surreal set piece is when after his first hit, all possible suspects are brought in at a police station, including Delon himself. Not one by one but all of 'em at the same time. In the next scene we see at least a hundred "gangsters", all wearing trench coats and hats, in a large hall, where they will be interrogated "en plein public". Genuinely strange procedures but handled with such care and stylishness that it becomes completely believable. It gives the somewhat humorous suggestion that the streets of Paris are populated by hundreds, even thousands, of trenchcoat-wearing gangsters, all loners, only seeing each other at card games and occasions like this.

Alain Delon is the perfect embodiment of gangster coolness in this career-defining role as a hit-man in Paris, a modern-day samuraï. "Le Gangster", as the French lovingly call them. Off course, these gangsters don't exist anymore and they probably never existed at all. French Gangsters must have been redefining their look after seeing Delon in this film. His association in real life with French criminal circles, in particular the Marseille underworld, has always given his performances a very strange aura.

As a kid, I regularly visited my grandmother who lived near the city of Marseille and on French television I saw lots of French gangster movies (well, my parents let me watch with them). Alain Delon was in quite a few of them. When I grew older and could identify most of the French screen legends, Delon as no other came to represent the ultimate gangster. An stylized icon of urban cool. I'm also convinced that his character Jef Costello in Le Samouraï was the inspiration for the hissing and whispering fellow in the trench coat in Sesame Street (did he have a name?), something like a gangster, a criminal. A mysterious strange man you should avoid as a kid. I'll be damned if I'm wrong, but I still see Alain Delon in Sesame Street!
44 out of 59 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
Sublime strangeness.
FilmSnobby31 October 2005
I'm going to go ahead and suggest, in my meager way, some reasons as to why Jean-Pierre Melville's *Le Samourai* is one of the greatest movies ever made, but it's far, far better for you to experience the film for yourself. You now have no more excuses: Criterion has just released it on DVD -- though, puzzlingly, this film doesn't get the deluxe double-disc treatment that the somewhat inferior *Le Cercle Rouge* received. Whatever -- I'll take it.

Simply put, *Le Samourai* justifies -- beyond argument -- the auteur theory in cinema, which states, more or less, that the most artistically rich movies are "authored" by their directors. And how much more enjoyable it is for the viewer that the author in this case, Melville, is mostly concerned with entertaining you! Those who dread the prospect of a French film from the Sixties can rest assured: no Godardian slap-dash cross-cutting, here; no lolling around in bed with a girl, smoking cigarettes and spouting tough-guy Marxism; no confusing back-and-forth displacement of narrative time, a la Resnais. Oh, Melville was a New Wave director, to be sure, but he was NEVER an experimentalist in terms of narrative. Take a film by Godard, even his most famous film, *Breathless*: you have to meet Godard on his own terms, or get left behind (your loss!) But Melville pours his stories into your glass neat, no ice, no intellectual mixer. *Le Samourai* is about a gun-for-hire named Jef Costello (Alain Delon). His job is to eliminate a nightclub owner. He does so, but is witnessed leaving the scene of the crime by the club's piano player (Cathy Rosier). Later that night, during the police round-up, he's taken in as one of 400 or more potential suspects. The cops can't make it stick to Costello, but the superintendent (Francois Perier) isn't fooled by Costello or his airtight alibi. And thus Costello finds himself under police surveillance, and meanwhile, his criminal bosses want to rub him out in case he squeals to "le flics". In other words, the actual story is simplicity itself, and is frankly ripped off from all the B-movie American noirs that Melville loved so much.

But none of this explains the stark originality of the movie. Of course, Melville gets some help. Let it be said that Delon is so good as the hunted hit-man that it almost defies description, let alone praise. Reportedly, he took the part after Melville had read to him the first 7 or 8 pages of the script. "I have no dialog for the first 10 minutes. I love it -- when can we start?" Delon is supposed to have said. Luckily for Melville, he found a kindred spirit in Delon, who, in any case, must have recognized the potentially iconic performance he could pull off if sympathetically directed. And boy, did he pull it off: NO ONE, in ANY movie, has ever been cooler than Delon's Costello. The movie was released in 1967 -- the Summer of Love -- but here's Delon anachronistically dressed in a single-breasted suit and a fedora, and getting away with it. (Well, okay, everyone else is wearing a hat, too, but this IS a Melville picture.) As for the performance itself, it bears comparison to Dirk Bogarde's Aschenbach in Visconti's *Death in Venice*: both roles are virtually silent yet must convey multitudes in a glance, in a movement, in a slight widening of the eyes. This is acting at its most meticulous, most physical, and most compact. Costello hardly ever says anything, but we're totally compelled by him, thanks to Delon's tight control. The influence of this character and Delon's performance has been nothing less than torrential: Pacino's Michael in *The Godfather* may serve as an obvious example.

But much of this owes to Melville's original conception, as well. If Shakespeare needs good actors to carry his plays over, then good actors need Shakespearean-level material to reach their best performances. Melville, as always, flavors his pulpy stews with his own fevered artistic ingredients, the foremost of which is own idea of masculinity taken to the insane extreme. Tainted with Japanese samurai films, American gangster films, and westerns as well, Melville concocts a character whose every act is an expression of pure existentialism. The ultimate result is that frisson of sublime strangeness we as an audience encounter whenever we come face-to-face with a deeply considered and unique artistic vision. The best art is really weird, yet recognizable and unforgettable. *Le Samourai* is among the best art.

10 stars out of 10.
61 out of 85 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
May be my favorite Melville film with a style that has inspired some, but is hard to match
MisterWhiplash1 August 2004
Jean-Pierre Melville took the idea of the lone gunman (perhaps more akin to the western genre than the crime genre), and created a film with star Alain Delon as a ultra-calm, smooth-operating contract killer Jeff Costello in Paris, who may be at least a little insane. The result is a blend of stylistic and thematic excellence, a suspense film where sometimes that aspect has to take a backseat to the psychological drama of the killer, and the side-story of the police procedural (headed by 'Superintendant' played by Francois Perier). The film carries very little dialog with a couple of exceptions, which gives Melville a chance to perfect his storytelling technique. Deleon, as well, was a very fit choice for the role of Costello. It's actually fascinating that Melville made this character, mostly a night owl with a look that's usually cold and hard boiled like some neo-hood from the 30's, the protagonist.

There's also the look of the film, provided in part by Henri Decae, who would later lens Melville's epic Le Cercle Rouge. In the opening shot, were given the feeling of distortion on Costello's uniquely blank one-room apartment. Is this to bring us inside of Costello's frayed consciousness, or is it just one of those style moves done by directors in the 60's? I might go for the psychological part, but what I noticed about Le Samourai, adding to the appeal of it, was the theme of Costello's mind-set is put forth subtlety. This is a pro put into tight circumstances (getting heat from his employers as well as the police), so who is there for him to go to? Just an on & off again girlfriend (Nathalie Delon), a little bird in his apartment, and a witness to one of his contracts (the late Cathy Rosier, in a performance of some note despite the one-sidedness of her part). When the action comes, it's not as bloody as in the films it later inspired (most obvious of which are John Woo's The Killer and Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog), yet that too just adds on to the emotions provoked by the settings and the mis-en-scene.

So, would I recommend Le Samourai to fans of crime films? Well, it may not to those who sole obsession are the crime films that pack all the high octane juice and gore, such as in a John Woo or Hong-Kong action film, or to the Tarantino fans that may not appreciate the patience Melville has (the deliberate pace and silences) as opposed to laughs and ultra-violence. I'd guess that Le Samourai is most successful, and why it is one of the best films I will ever see, because it is heavy on the nuance and detail, doesn't skimp on keeping the genre characters believable, and leaves the gun-play as true surprises even on repeat viewings (however, this is the kind of film to be watched maybe once every year or once ever few years, so that it keeps fresh when seen again).

Aside from delivering the goods in terms of the story and as a drama, for the audience it seeks out it's highly absorbing and an example of subtlety in cinematic grammar. It's not a crime or police movie for the mainstream (and I'm sure some will seek this out from the under-ground buzz, start watching and say, "oh man, this stuff's in subtitles? I can't bear to watch"). Really, it's appeal will hold more to fans of the french new-wave, which Melville set off with Bob le Flambeur, film-geeks, and for those looking for a dosage of atmosphere and cool bravura directors can't seem to latch onto in recent times. For me, it is one of the truly sublime time-capsule of what the gangster/noir genre/mood can produce.
49 out of 70 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
9/10
exceptionally realistic and cold
MartinHafer15 October 2005
For once, a bad guy who really acts like a bad guy should! This hit-man is one cold, non-descript and calculating man who plans and executes his hit with the utmost precision. About the only character I remember who did a more thorough job was the hit-man in Day of the Jackal. The police also seem very bright and competent--and repeatedly nearly trip up the baddie (Jef). Because of all this realism, I strongly commend this movie. On top of the realism, I really liked the ending. All in all, a fine film and there are no negatives that I can think of--except that this type of film is probably NOT everyone's cup of tea, so to speak. There really isn't any romance and no one is particularly likable, but what do you expect in a film like this?
43 out of 62 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
7/10
Good
Cosmoeticadotcom1 September 2010
Warning: Spoilers
This film has concerns other than mere narrative, and there is an influence that other critics never seem to have mentioned, but which struck me right away, and that is in the visual style of the film. No, the film's cinematography, by Henri Decaë, is not influenced so much by other films- even the aforementioned 1930s gangster films, but by the paintings of Edward Hopper. The film is rife with images of lonely people staring offscreen, or gazing out of windows, or into the darkness. Even more so, is that Hopper's character's zombie-like eyes (often sans pupils) is mirrored by the ubiquitous vacancies most of Melville's characters furnish (especially Delon's robotic steel blue eyes), even when brandishing weapons, or engaged with each other. It is almost like a shadow play, a Platonic Cave entertainment. And this is only further enhanced by the sparse dialogue throughout the film. And, then there is the fact that Japanese samurai were not assassins for hire, but warriors who fought for honor, which suggests that, not only is this film a shadow play, but perhaps a looking glass one, as well. Kudos must be doled out to Melville, for the adapted screenplay, though, because, despite the film's miss at greatness, it achieves what it does, which is considerable (a nice twist on a very tired genre) with aplomb. As the film was adapted from a Joan McLeod novel called The Ronin, but I do not know how much of the book made it into the final film.

The Criterion Collection DVD unfortunately lacks an audio commentary, but has two visual essays/interviews with Melville scholars Rui Nogueira and Ginette Vincendeau. There is the requisite fellatio, of course, but also some valuable insights into the film Then, there is arcvhival footage of interviews with Melville, Delon, and others in the cast, as well as the original theatrical trailer. The booklet has selections about Melville, and pieces by filmmaker John Woo and film critic David Thomson. The transfer is fine, in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but there is no English language track, only the usual standard Criterion white subtitles. As the film is in color, this presents none of the problems such subtitles do with black and white films. All in all, not the best extras package from Criterion, but far from their worst.

Le Samourai is not a masterpiece- a term too often bandied about by enthusiasts of any work of art, but it is an interesting experiment that works far more than it fails. It also reminded me of Jim Jarmusch's 1999 film, Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai. The major difference between the films is that Ghost Dog contains some of the most realistic depictions of gangsters on screen (stylized realism, granted)- not romanticized ala Francis Ford Coppola, not glorified ala Martin Scorsese, but real. One need not have a working knowledge of the 1960s era French Underworld to know that Le Samourai is in no way realistic. All the situations are too phony, all the characters too dumb, and all the action to contrived, telegraphed, and choreographed for that to be claimed. But, as a violent ballet, it is a marvelous entertainment, and I have spent many a worse hour and forty-five minutes of my existence, for sure. While Melville's film does not rise to the existential and intellectual levels of the best I've seen from Clouzot, it does transcend most of that offered by Hitchcock, while retaining the technical grace and alacrity that the 'Master Of Suspense' developed. Melville's film, thus, scores somewhere in between the two, and, if one's work is to be so sandwiched, there certainly is worse bread to be buttered. Trust me, they were many of the worse hour and forty-five minutes of my existence.
7 out of 8 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
Il N'y a pas De Plus Profonde Solitude Que Celle Du Samourai.
MacAindrais23 May 2006
Le Samourai (1967) ****

The film opens to the semi-annoying sound of a small birds chirp in a dull, grey room that appears to be empty. After a moment we realize the room is not empty - a man lights a cigarette lying on his bed. Meet Jef Costello, played by french pretty boy Alain Delon. The opening shot sets the pace for the rest of movie. There are no high speed chases or wild action sequences, and the star barely speaks a word. Costello is one of the coolest characters in film history. Delon plays his character to perfection. If one did not know anything about him it was likely you would not realize he was a pretty boy. His face is expressionless throughout almost the entire movie - it is a tribute to Delon that he can express emotion on only a couple occasions while still remaining facially expressionless.

Costello is a hit-man, loyal to his boss: himself. The title of the film, Le Samourai, suggests of course that Costello is a student of the Samourai code. But is he really? The movie also opens with a quote "There is no solitude greater than the Samurai's, except for that of a tiger in the jungle. Unless perhaps it be that of the tiger in the jungle." This supposedly comes from the Book of the Samurai, which as it turns out was an invention of director Jean-Pierre Melville.

The story plays out as Jef completes a hit on night club owner, after setting up an almost too perfect alibi, but on his way out the door is seen by a the beautiful piano player. The police round up a number of people who look fit the description; Costello happens to be rounded up while at a card game. His alibi is strong, and mysteriously the piano player claims that this is definitely not the man she saw; another man who watched Costello walk out of the club also said with certainty that this is not the man. Another club patron claims that he saw this man at the club at the time of the murder and claims this is the culprit. The remaining two witnesses aren't sure, but don't think this was the killer. We know its Costello, the third man believes it is him, but why do the two who had the best look claim that this is not the man they saw? The plot evolves from here: The police believe Costello is lying and follow him everywhere; the men who gave Jef the hit will betray him and come after him as well.

Melville is meticulous in his direction, just as Costello is in his actions. There is great detail paid to the actions of Costello leading up to the hit, from stealing a car while trying a number of keys, placing those that do not work in a perfect line on the seat beside him, to his alibi with a woman (played by Delon's real life wife) who says she does not love him to the police, but we get the feeling she does indeed. There are moments of silent comedy that you could almost miss: The men riding with Costello on the way to the police station, none of whom look anything like the description, some old and decrepit; there is a scene in which Jef opens his cupboard and we see on the top of it bottles of water and packs of cigarettes lined up perfectly. None of this is laugh out loud funny, but incredibly clever and lets you know that Melville knows exactly how Costello should be.

As stated, the film is not full of action. It is a film where almost nothing happens. But no other film in which nothing happens has ever been so riveting. There is a famous metro chase scene that moves at probably the slowest pace of any chase scene in cinematic history, but it is enthralling. The pace sets up more importantly the themes of the movie. What are they? Its been debated widely. Searching for home? Mental Breakdowns? Morality, and loneliness? I would argue that it is not one, but likely all of these. The title reflects Jef's solitude and loneliness more than his code of honor. The final scene reflects many things about what we just witnessed, and has left some confused about what happens. Costello does a number of things in the latter half of the movie we do not understand, and that Melville gives us no answers to. Costello returns to the night club for example, buys a whiskey, pays for it, and then promptly leaves without drinking it. Why? Who knows.

Le Samourai is a classic, filled with pitch perfect performances and is the inspiration for a number of modern day films. John Woo has called it an absolutely perfect film, and he is likely right. It is a meticulously developed project, with virtually no flaws. It's probably the best film about hit men ever made, which is a narrow classification of this film, because it is more than just the story of a hit-man. Il N'y a pas De Plus Profonde Solitude Que Celle Du Samourai.

4/4
31 out of 47 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
An amazing film....
The_Naked_Kiss5 January 2007
Jef Costello is a contract killer, a lone wolf living in Paris in 1967. He is vocally inert, a modern day samurai who emulates the intensity and devotion of an old school samurai. Costello finds himself arrested for a murder that he is guilty of. He is taken to a line-up and identified by a select few who saw him leave the scene of the crime. Amazingly he gets away with it, this might be the only niggling thing in the movie, you feel it is impossible for a man to come so close with the law and not get charged. Alas, he is a free man. The rest of the film focuses on the police trying to bring him down, to crack his alibis, to catch him in the act. The final scene I can not comment on without spoiling. Melville certainly delivers on his statement that he likes to leave the audience confused. However you interpret the ending is the true meaning to you. It may frustrate some, but personally I think it is the most well executed ending I have seen in a long time.

This film radiates that dark brooding look that only European movies portray well. The simplistic yet striking sets make streets and the most mundane objects look like works of art. The audacious use of pop culture in the form of art and artifacts adds to the overall tone of the film. The mash up of elements, the sassy colors of the 60's, the sophisticated noir qualities and the undercurrent of Japanese cinema makes this film so remarkable. It sounds as if it would clash violently, and it does, but it works. You feel very detached watching this movie, free to interpret it how you want; there is little dialog which I would like to see more in movies. It is so suggestive; this film caters to those who do not like condescending films that spell out what is going on, as if you are watching an episode of Sesame Street. This film is simply epic. One that I am going to insist upon watching monthly.

Further more, Criterion really know who to spoil connoisseurs of film. I recommend you invest in buying the criterion collection edition of Le Samourai. It comes with a 32 page booklet including excerpts from Melville on Melville and essays by David Thomson and filmmaker John Woo, as well as 6 interview clips with various actors from the film and an interview with Jean- Pierre Melville.
23 out of 37 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
4/10
A masterpiece? Seriously?
Anthony Henry24 April 2013
I just don't get it. Why is this movie praised by the critics ? It must be one of the most boring movies I've ever seen. It's not that the plot is bad. Actually I was interested in seeing what would happen. The real problem : the main character.

Jeff is the most uninteresting hero I've ever seen. He just keeps a blank face during the whole goddamn movie. There is no character development, which isn't surprising since Jeff doesn't have a personality to begin with. He's just a handsome, cool-looking hit-man with a cool hat and a cool trench coat. Like I said, the plot in itself is pretty interesting, but I just didn't care about what would happen to Jeff.

The reason why I didn't rate it lower is because there are still some good points. The police officer, Jeff's girlfriend, the blonde hit-man, the gangster who hired Jeff and the black pianist are all interesting characters, particularly the determined police officer. Unfortunately, the movie decides to focus on Jeff - but then again, without giving him a REAL personality to speak of. There are also some pretty intense scenes.

This movie could have been good. But unfortunately, Merville chose style over substance.
11 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
9/10
Suave, Cool and Intricate: Le Samouri is wonderful
Mopkin TheHopkin13 February 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Le Samourai is directed by Jean-Pierre Melville and stars Alain Delon as Jef Costello, an assassin working for criminal elements in Paris, France. Jef is a lone wolf and a perfectionist, calm and cool in any situation. As the title suggests, Costello places unsaid faith into Bushido, which advocates self-control and mastery, honour and obedience.

The film itself revolves around Costello's lonely existence. He spends most of his time alone with a small bird in a rundown and empty apartment as he waits for his next assignment. When it arrives, he meticulously and ruthlessly pulls off the job, trying to remain hidden and anonymous while carrying out his task.

The plot of the film develops when Costello bumps into a young singer at a club, directly after he pulls off a job. Things begin to unravel for him as the police tighten their net, his employers become suspicious, and his meticulous plans start to fray. Costello himself seems to develop as the plot does. His warriors mask begins to crack and he shows more strain, more fear and panic, albeit very subtly.

Le Samourai is quite masterful. Carefully and meticulously shot itself, the film has little in the way of downsides. The plot is brooding and atmospheric as Costello navigates the streets and metros of Paris to evade his pursuers. The score is haunting and appropriate. The acting is superb. The plot is deep and defined. Le Samourai was a blast. It is a neo-noir film of the highest order, and well encompasses film-noir aspects from Frances cinematic history. It is an excellent film to watch, and I can't wait to watch it again.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
7/10
Should have been silent
rauldiul27 March 2013
Amazing camera work can only go so far...

This is not a great film, one gets the feeling that Jean-Pierre Melville's incredible insight and flawless direction goes somewhat to waste on this one.

The scarce dialogue is so dim that the main feeling is that it just gets in the way, and only achieves to point out a quite dull script.

One thing is mystery and another is countless minutes of Alain Delon climbings stairs, walking, unblinking...

Interesting, entertaining film to watch, just doesn't really get to you.
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
5/10
Overrated movie alert...
dr_foreman5 August 2007
Pardon my bluntness, but I think "Le Samourai" is chiefly a film for movie critics and movie snobs. Average viewers will, I think, be bored rigid by it. And who can blame them? I'm afraid this is one of those movies that's all about "mood" and "atmosphere" and an intangible sense of "cool" - it certainly isn't about characters, and it doesn't feature much of a story to speak of. The only interesting person in the film, in my view, is the police inspector, but even he doesn't have much by way of character development or interior life.

Mainly, the film consists of Alain Delon wandering around various urban settings in his "cool" hat and "cool" trenchcoat. The pacing is purely glacial, and oftentimes I really didn't care about where he was going or what he was up to. To make matters worse, he's a singularly incompetent hit-man who's about as subtle and stealthy as the Kool-Aid Man.

Perhaps I'm being too harsh on this film because I don't normally like movies about criminals. It sort of offends me, to be honest, that so many films glamorize gangsters, hit-men, and other forms of gutter life. What's so intrinsically fascinating about crooks, anyway? Are we all so repressed and violent that we need to get vicarious jollies by rooting for on-screen killers?

And yet, I do like some movies about criminals. In "Get Carter," the central character at least has a strong motivation and a personality to go with it. "Kind Hearts and Coronets," meanwhile, features a killer who's quite smart and witty. "Le Samourai," on the other hand, is about a killer with no real motivation, personality, smarts or wit. I can't find anything to admire about him, anything to latch on to.

At best, this movie can be judged a cold masterpiece. But, in my perhaps crass view, it's a cold turkey. Some foreign films are masterpieces that put Hollywood to shame, while others are just plain dull and pretentious. I think this falls into the latter camp.
24 out of 41 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
1/10
Worst assassin ever.
bifford2223 February 2013
OK, so I get that the assassin is supposed to be the embodiment of cool, that every gesture he makes is supposed to just radiate cool; at least that's what the copy on the back of the Criterion Collection DVD would have me believe. The copy on the back of the DVD would have me believe that this is the COOLEST MOVIE EVER. So the backs of DVDs wax hyperbolic sometimes, OK, I get that. But never have my expectations for a movie been so excruciatingly disproportionate with the movie that I ended up watching.

The assassin is not even that cool. Let's start there. He goofs the only assignment we ever see him do, and spends the next half hour of the movie in a police station, switching coats and hats with some of the other 400 suspects police have rounded up (apparently this is the only crime happening in Paris), entangled in all manner of bureaucratic nonsense. What kind of ultra-cool assassin gets entangled in such bureaucratic nonsense?

What I mean to say is that the pacing, inasmuch as it exists, is totally wonky. I realize that this is not a "traditional Hollywood movie." I realize that. And I like films like The Master or Eyes Wide Shut or The Exterminating Angel just as much as the next critic or snobbish cinephile. I liked the other flick I saw by Jean-Pierre Melville too, Army of Shadows. That one was slow, but its scenes each built to something, it had something definite underneath its style. I don't mind if a movie isn't going to entertain me in the manner that I've been conditioned by Hollywood to expect, but I'd like it to at least given something worth contemplating while I fail to be entertained. Le Samourai gives me nothing. It gives me a half-assed assassin, some half-assed gangsters, a half-assed police department, and nowhere near enough style to make it all worth watching.

The only way I knew that this guy was a master assassin was because the back of the DVD told me so. In the movie, we get nothing to draw this conclusion from. He botches the job and gets arrested. If the movie were really so stylish, it might have started by showing us the assassin doing right by a job, killing a guy ice cold, leaving without a trace, then flubbing the next job. Instead the movie gives us, right from the start, the worst, lamest assassin ever. And then later, the most boring chase scene ever. Also, the police go to bug his apartment, and they put in the worst bug ever. It's not even a bug. It's more like the size of a mouse. Jesus Christ.

I don't normally write reviews, or comment on the internet, but in this case I felt morally obligated to, given how much praise I've seen lavished on this movie. Where is this praise coming from? Why, why, why? The movie is a waste of time. It's not a good movie, and it's not a good bad movie either. It's nothing but a tedious bore.
19 out of 32 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
3/10
why do so many other folks think this stupid movie is a masterpiece?
joel-2808 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The "auteur" of this turkey decided to make a film noir starring Alain Delon. Add a few good-looking femmes, including a hard-as-nails party girl with a soft spot for Alain. So far, so good. Every decision after that was a loser.

Even 21st century movies aimed at 15-year-old males, that depend on special effects and car chases, don't have as many illogical and just nutty plot elements as this one. Why does the inspector suspect Jef, when there is no reason for it? Why does Jef wear the same hat and trench coat in which he committed the murder, afterward? How do the police know about the card game where they pick him up, and why do they bother to raid it? Why does the evil mastermind want to, or need to, pay Jef two million francs (more or less US $750 k to 1 million in 2006 prices!!! -- or were they still counting in old francs in 67, which would make the sum ridiculously small) to kill the beautiful pianist? Just what is it about the bird's behavior that tells Jef that his apartment has been visited, and how is it that Jef understands this? Does he have a PhD in ornithologic psych? Why is it so notable that Jef knows the Paris metro so well; it's the easiest thing in the world to figure out even for a tourist who doesn't speak French. And on, and on, and on.

I love film noir and I love French movies from the 60s, but this one ain't it.
25 out of 46 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
Some people seem to like this a lot, but why?
Mankin13 June 2000
I found "Le Samourai" (**) to be more about style than substance. The pace is slow, the frustratingly enigmatic plot raises more questions than it answers (for starters, why does the hitman allow himself to be arrested and put in a police lineup after he's performed a very public shooting in the nightclub?). The title is just typical French neo-noir pretentiousness. The quotation from the Bushido is fictional and the attempt to forge a connection between a gangland hitman and a Japanese samourai is tenuous at best. I rewound this tape and watched certain key scenes again just to see if I could make any more sense of the at times nonsensical story (I couldn't). Many scenes seem to be mindless padding (e.g., the police take up 5 minutes of running time just bugging the killer's room with an absurdly conspicuous listening device that seems to be designed to be found in about two minutes). All-in-all, borrrring!
16 out of 28 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
The darkest solitude possible
Galina30 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Who would think that one of the best Samurai movies had been made by a French director and it took place in gloomy, rainy Paris of the 60s? Great movie, simply amazing with the coolest actor possible to play the Samurai of the title, a "beautiful destructive angel of the dark street", Alain Delon. Delon's Jef Costello, the self-employed killer for hire, does not say much but when he is on the screen, you'd never take your eyes off him. Delon is the major but not the only asset to the film. Mellville's style is so distinguished, so precise, so elegant, so chilling, and so perfect in the exploring the darkest solitude possible (and that of a samurai or a tiger in the jungle) and of the only destiny the samurai has to be prepared for - "One who is a samurai must before all things keep constantly in mind, by day and by night . . . the fact that he has to die. That is his chief business" that I can't think of any other movie to place close to his masterwork.
8 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
8/10
An Iconically Silky French Cocktail
Blake Peterson2 May 2015
Alain Delon has had it. It's 1967, he's sitting on the hot seat of France's famed movie series, Monsieur Cinéma, and he's promoting Le Samouraï. "We have the great pleasure of welcoming Alain Delon to our show," the host says, looking in his guest's direction. "Alain Delon is in the spotlight because 'Le Samouraï' is opening this week." But the ambiance doesn't feel like a respected Inside the Actors Studio precursor; it feels more like a talk show, and Delon isn't in a good mood. He's been better known for his looks than his talents for his entire career. He's proud of the work he has done in acclaimed works like Purple Noon and The Leopard, but he finds himself taken less seriously than he'd like to be simply because he resembles a suave Dolce & Gabbana model. The Male Bardot, they call him.

But he's 32. He doesn't want to be labeled as a pretty boy who somehow gets enviable parts any longer. So instead of saying thank you to his host's polite but slightly condescending introduction, he elaborates on the date of the film's opening. "It's this Wednesday," he smirks. Aware of his guest's snarky mood, the host tries to pick himself back up. "The posters are all over Paris, and they're very striking. 'Le Samouraï', in big, black letters."

"Red," Delon interrupts before his interviewer can even say "letters." He's seen it all before: the host who actually knows nothing about the film but pretends to love it, the host who puts on a grin in order to appease disinterested viewers. Maybe he would have let this fly in the past, but Le Samouraï is far too important to him. He believes it to be a turning point in his undermined career. This isn't just some fluffy movie audiences hear about on a television program like it's Dean Martin's newest vehicle; this is "a work of art," he puts it. "A true auteur film in every aspect."

He goes on to discuss the ins-and-outs of the film with the watchful eye of an obsessed movie buff, and it's unlike anything we've seen Delon do before, personally or professionally. He's always been the confident kid that whisks by with a hint of danger, an exotic woman by his side. This image, along with the entire introduction of this review, may or may not be dramatized speculation on my part, but when I picture Delon, I picture him as the guy from L'Eclisse, fiendishly charismatic but in a tug-of-war between boyhood and the idea of an adulthood in which being taken seriously is everything.

Jean-Pierre Melville uses Delon in a way most directors would be afraid to attempt. Before, Delon's charm was his selling point, but in Le Samouraï, his allure is snatched from him. Melville takes away any ounce of precious dialogue in favor of a more nuanced approach, forcing Delon to embody a particularly cryptic character mostly through body language. In the past, actors in gangster films have been able to mangle the script and somehow spike their delivery to sound more menacing than usual. But Delon has to do something even harder, having to exude invincibility all the while keeping an icy exterior. People turn towards scenery-chewing performances when thinking about characterizations that "moved" them; in contrast Delon has done something masterful with subtlety, undoubtedly more impressive than the booming Shakespearian actors that began to creep out during the 1960s.

We see Costello go through his daily rituals, putting on his trench coat and fedora with strange precision, keying a car to get some extra loot, later pulling a job at a nightclub. Throughout the film, he doesn't show the slightest smidgen of a feeling. Is he numb? In denial? Truthfully, it doesn't matter. Though the storyline sees his normally smooth routine being interrupted by an investigation, he doesn't seem worried about the government closing in on his every move. He is so far into a life of crime that dying for his cause doesn't seem all that bad.

This is probably why the film is called Le Samouraï, as the samurais in all those Asian epics were more than willing to lose their lives in order to appease their reputations and their peers. Unlike Melville's earlier projects, Le Samouraï doesn't have the same blatant criminal romanticism. It's slick and crystalline, yes, but every frame carries enough tension to suggest that Dolph Lundgren might come out of the shadows and Machine Gun Kelly everyone to death. A tragic ending is a given. Silence is cherished in the film; along with Delon's moodless characterization, the facsimile of scenic solitude is furthered. The greyed-out style, Melville's intricate direction, and, of course, Delon's performance, work together with astonishing virtuosity.

The only complaint I ever find myself having with Melville films is how untouchable they are. They feel miles apart from us, detached, so stylish that we grow to be more appreciative than adoring. But there is no denying how great a filmmaker Melville is. "He's the greatest director I've had the good fortune, pleasure, and honor to work with up to this point," Delon dryly gushes later on in the Monsieur Cinéma interview. It sounds dramatic, but sometimes, melodrama can be true. Melville is not just a guy with a dream; he's a visionary, a poet of style.

Read more reviews at petersonreviews.com
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
The samurai - the way of Alain Delon
Artimidor Federkiel14 March 2013
Who is he? It doesn't matter. What does he want? To kill someone. Enough said. A man, a mission, few words. That's the way of the samurai. One downside only: There is no greater solitude than that of the samurai. Unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle. Perhaps. - Scenes and impressions from a piece of film history that spells cool, en français. The part of the eponymous "Samourai" is played by Alain Delon, born with stoicism in his blood, directed and written by Jean-Pierre Melville, who sucked in American film noir to live and breathe it as a person and to be creative with it as a true auteur. He shot noirs in color in French that made the archetype look old. A loner, a man with a mission, a samurai in a way.

One could describe "Le Samourai", a 1967 picture, perhaps as the exact antithesis of the films we are used to see from video generation directors that emerged in full in the late eighties. What you won't experience here is adrenaline pumping fast pace, flashy quick cuts, slow motion sequences, car chases, spectacular stunts, explosions, yes, even blood is rather scarce in a film about a hit-man. Frankly, all of that is superfluous if the filmmaker knows his craft on how to get the viewer involved in his picture. Contrary to the constant pay-offs as part of a kaleidoscopic spectacle of action that dominate the screens at the latest from the nineties, the secrets of "Le Samourai" are simple, but effective: Delon's iconic screen presence, a uniquely created mood based on existential fatalism, a lot of build-up and perfect timing to release tension. In short: What we have here is an epitome of minimalistic suspense cinema. The assassin himself, Jef Costello, despite the fact that Delon plays him straight and stone-faced is no invulnerable killer machine, quite the opposite. And that's also where the story lies - that something goes terribly wrong, but somehow someone helps. Quite unexpectedly actually. On the other hand: There is no greater solitude than that of the samurai...
4 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
5/10
'Style over substance' fanatics, brand Le Samourai a 'masterpiece', and you won't be able to convince them otherwise
Turfseer11 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
With perhaps no other film do we see such marked lines of demarcation--a veritable clash of opinion divided into opposing critical camps--than in Jean-Pierre Melville's 'Le Samourai'. What it really comes down to is a civil war between film aficionados who set a sharp dividing line between style and substance. From the outset I must confess I am firmly ensconced in the 'substance' camp and for me, Le Samourai, in the end, fails precisely because it's practically all 'style' and of little 'substance'.

Today we have Tarantino, who like Melville, is a film buff and draws upon his vast knowledge of Hollywood films of yesteryear, to create his own new brand of films, a creative amalgam of past and present styles. Both Melville and Tarantino have made films where they are devoted to paying tribute to past classics, particularly in the gangster genre.

Melville perhaps is strongest when he puts his quirky, original imprint on what on the surface appears to be an ordinary gangster picture. I'm thinking about the early scene where he has his protagonist, Jef Costello, go through the assortment of keys, one of which will start the car he has stolen; or (as it's pointed out in the DVD extras), how Melville cleverly suggests that Jef has outdrawn the nightclub owner, by immediately cutting from the owner drawing the pistol, to Jef firing his gun, with no footage in between; the struggle at the train station, shot from the odd angle, gazing through the bridge grills and of course the excellent closing scene, so nicely choreographed, with Melville detailing how his hero accomplishes his pre-planned 'suicide by cop'.

While I'm perfectly willing to concede Melville has his stylistic 'moments', I part company with the style camp, on a number of fronts. While the 'stylistas' argue that the languid pacing of the movie adds to the overall impact of the narrative, I would argue the opposite. Why must we sit through minutes of the static opening shot of Jef's apartment? Why do 12 minutes go by before anything of any import actually happens (Jef stealing the car)? Why all the mundane shots of Jef walking through the streets and driving his car? Having his license plates switched (twice!)? An enormously long scene of police interrogations and line-up? An unnecessarily long scene of inept cops planting a bug in Jef's apartment? It goes on and on. Perhaps with some judicious editing, Le Samourai could have moved quicker and hence not put some of us to sleep.

Le Samourai fails on a much deeper level in that its characters lack depth. Deleon's 'Jef' is perhaps the best example of this lack of character development. His grim countenance becomes tedious throughout the film and we really find out next to nothing about him. I'm not surprised that Madonna wrote a song about Deleon ('Beautiful Killer') and his performance; undoubtedly many women were attracted to Deleon's 'pretty boy' looks (please look at pictures of him now—time has not been kind to once heralded media darling). Jef's death does conform to the Hollywood code: to atone for their sins, a person who has committed evil acts, must sacrifice himself, before the audience can look at him in a good light.

The 'Le Samourai' has little to recommend in terms of plot. It's a simple story about a contract killer who murders a man with no back story. The men who are behind the murder, are also complete ciphers. Only the chief detective, played by noted stage actor François Périer, proves to have a role of some substance, as he actually comes off as a real police detective. I also liked the late Cathy Rosier, the pianist, who brings grace to a limited part. At a certain point near the end of the story, Jef allows the man who initially attempted to kill him off the hook, after accepting payment of another large amount of money for another contract killing. Why didn't Jef, a contract killer, kill this man? Again, an improbable code of honor posited by Mr. Melville. Of course if Jef is a somnambulist (as one internet poster has suggested), and the whole story is a fantastic dream, then how can anybody have the audacity to question the character's verisimilitude? For those hypnotized by the film's style, it is certain that you will never convince them otherwise, that 'Le Samourai', is a certified masterpiece.
7 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
9/10
A French film from the late 1960's about a hit man.
varekamd17 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I liked it. Even as a student of philosophy I didn't really see all of the existential commentary that some people seem to read into Jef's changing mental state. Clearly he does start to come apart: his expressions when he steals the second DS stand in stark contrast to his icy coolness the first time he stole the other DS. I took the bleak apartment as simply a reflection of Jef's rather bleak character. He seems to be a rather isolated and depressed individual, capable of brilliance but also of surprising absentmindedness. But the camera shots were very pretty. Some of them did linger on a particular situation, but that is part of the beauty. I think that cinematography is all about how a shot is first a well-composed photograph that then slides into motion; this motion should ideally then continue through a series of equally well- proportioned pictures that the character moves through and interacts with. Melville did this very well; just look at the opening scene with the smoke rising and the bird. Thus, all in all, it was a very pretty film; Jef turns out not to be quite as detached as he appears and actually does care about some of the people he interacts with, the cameras were all very well set up and the way the shots were framed was very pretty. If you want to read a whole lot of existentialism into it, I suppose you can do that too.
7 out of 11 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
10/10
Cutting Edge Cinema
spelvini11 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
The Criterion Collection has reissued this classic European film noir, long considered one of the classics of existential French films tipping a hat at the American genre.

Alain Delon stars, as Jeff Costello is an assassin who lives a solitary life with no friends. Costello begins his new assignment stealing a car, obtaining new license plates and a gun from his associate. He then drives to a nightclub at night and shoots the owner, accidentally being seen by the club pianist Valerie (Cathy Rosier). The police pick up Costello and with the investigation led by a determined Police Inspector (Francois Perier), subject him and many others to a line up. Costello is released because he has set up an alibi with Jan Lagrange (Natalie Delon), and also because Valerie lies and states that she did not see him. When Costello goes to collect his money for killing the club owner, his employer attempts to kill him. Police Inspector (Francois Perier) puts together a team of undercover cops to trail Costello through the Paris Metro, an underground labyrinth where Costello escapes. Costello thus seeks to get paid for his killing job and get revenge on the shadowy businessman who hired him, and stay one step ahead of the police Inspector but makes a decision that brings about surprising results.

This beautiful 103-minute feature from 1967, re-issued print from Criterion features a fine interview with director Jean-Pierre Melville, and a real insight to his view of cinema. The DVD also has interviews with Alain Delon, Natalie Delon, Francois Perier, and Cathy Rosier and their feelings about the film.

The outstanding element to this film is the level of pure cinema, wherein the cinematography and editing tell so much about the main character without dialogue. Alain Delon in the lead role tells us volumes about his character's needs, and given this use of his method is particular to this European interpretation of the American film Noir genre, he is a perfect fit for this role.

Director Melville utilized his studio for nearly all of the interior shots, and many of the set windows clearly reveal a processed backdrop. With the staged production values the film works because this reminds the audience that the theme of isolation is a key element in this French interpretation of the American Noir genre.

The key metaphor of the caged bird, singing all the while, is a traditional touch that I feel most film theory dispenses with today. When Le Samourai was made film was still considered part of a literate culture, especially in France, where even today the Cannes Film Festival heralds the work of director such as the Coen Brothers for Miller's Crossing.

The film is ostensibly a philosophical thesis beginning with the long static shot of a reclining assassin, Jeff Costello (Alain Delon) smoking in bed with the light of day coming in his cheap hotel room windows. As the rain seems to be falling even through the sunlight, a caged bird chirps away as a motto comes across the screen about the solitary mission of Le Samourai.

The film stays with Costello for nearly all of the action. Much of what we learn from the film is through purely visual information. Director Melville relies on the sophistication of the viewer to follow the editing and fill in all the open spots.

Consider the way Delon's Costello relates to his caged bird, a symbol of the protagonist's own captured soul. Melville utilizes classic cinematic structure to build his theme. We see Costello look at the bird as the creature chirps away, then we see the bird, and then we cut back to Costello as he makes a decision to take action.

Costello seems to communicate with the bird in other ways. After henchmen bug his apartment Costello seems to understand from his chirping partner where to locate the microphone. It is the sort of touch that creates a deeper dynamic with the audience and allows them an entryway into other possible levels of the film.

It is significant that one of the major showdowns happens in this hotel room with the blond businessman who hired Costello. The even lighting of the scene allows the viewer to see clearly the relationships in the story and why the message of the film so potent. There is no doubt about where Costello stands and his employer who is willing to kill the assassin to eliminate any collateral damage.

This is different from the American Noir style which utilizes a good deal of shadow to obscure the actors and obliterate meaning. In Le Samourai the characters actions are plain to see. Melville's direction shows us all the details and by doing so emphasizes the ulterior motives of the characters.

The ending is another static shot of the emptiness of a night club, punctuated by the director as he pulls out to reveal the edges of his own film set. It is Melville's way of creating distance both physically and intellectually for the viewer to perceive a greater understanding of the Noir film genre.

Michael Mann may have gotten some inspiration from Melville for his film Collateral, in which the Tom Cruse character constantly reminds Jamie Fox that he kills people for a living. This sense of professional expertise in Le Samourai is contrasted against the piano professionalism of Valerie the pianist, and the expert detection of the police detective Francois Perier.

It is the isolation and loneliness of the Delon character that burns the images of Le Samourai into our understanding of an activity and process involved with any profession, but especially professional killing for money.

Reportedly released in the US under the title The Godson, in a cut-to-fit format and overdubbed (I can't imagine the voices they used for the overdub!), it was overlooked until its re-released version in 1967.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
1/10
The most boring 'classic' I've ever seen
ExpendableMan19 April 2007
Glance across the reviews on these pages and you'll read an awful lot of them that celebrate Le Samourai as the pinnacle of 'cool.' Quite how they got this impression is beyond me, as having sat through 105 minutes of utter tedium, I can honestly say this is one of the most boring films I've ever seen. Come to think of it, maybe that's why it's so celebrated, high brow movie critics seem to worship anything that moves painfully slowly and would be dismissed by the rest of us as little more than a cure for insomnia.

The story, what little of it there is, follows Alain Delon's hit-man, Jeff Costello over the course of two days as he carries out a successful hit on a club owner, only to be arrested by the police force afterwards. Thanks to the unreliable witnesses however they cannot convict him, so set him loose with the intention of trailing his every move. The mob panics and decide to remove Jeff in the most final way you can imagine rather than pay him, backing the man into a corner and setting him on a collision course with both the authorities and his former employers.

If this sounds familiar then it's not surprising, as it was a significant influence on John Woo's seminal movie; The Killer. But where the Hong Kong film was a balls out action melodrama that moved with the frantic pace of a Gazelle with an adrenaline implant, Le Samourai moves slowly. Painfully slowly. There are lots of shots of characters doing mundane activities for what feels like an eternity, plenty of scenes where the lead simply walks up and down streets along with lots of lingering close ups of Delon's expressionless face.

To make matters worse, there is zero characterisation whatsoever. Delon has one facial expression for the whole movie. He never indicates any sign of emotion and rarely speaks and come the end of the movie, hasn't developed one iota since we first saw him. Everybody else moves about with blank expressions and where there should be feeling and connection, there is just a void. The police pursuit of Jeff seems not so much half-assed as quarter-assed and when people stare down the barrels of guns, they do so with nothing more than a "ho hum" look about them.

You can prattle on about psychology, paeans to loneliness, ethics and existentialism all you like. This is a boring movie filled with blank spaces where there should be characters and saddled with a pace that moves slower than a Tortoise with some very heavy shopping. And as for it being 'cool?' Forget about it. Unless you wear a beret, I'd avoid it at all costs.
17 out of 36 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? | Report this
loading
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews