Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Le Cercle Rouge (1970)

Le Cercle Rouge

Principal Cast:  Alain Delon, André Bourvil, Gian-Maria Volontè, Yves Montand
Director:  Jean-Pierre Melville
Producer:  Robert Dorfmann
Screenwriter:  Jean-Pierre Melville
Cinematography:  Henri Decaë

Master thief, Corey, has just been released from serving his prison sentence.  Shortly afterwards, he rips off his former mob boss, and returns to his criminal past.  On the same day, murderer Vogel escapes police custody.  Vogel and Corey cross paths and, along with alcoholic ex-cop Jansen, form a crew with the sole purpose of robbing a high-security, high-profile jewelry store.  But... will they succeed?

“All men are guilty. They're born innocent, but it doesn't last.”

Yes.  This is a French film.  Yes. There are subtitles.  Don’t let the scare you.  Unfortunately I’ve come across too many people in my life that avoid foreign films because they don’t want to put the effort into reading subtitles.  I can’t really begin to express how much this sentiment angers me.  But I digress.

Le Cercle Rouge, hands down, is one of the coolest movies you will ever see.  It somehow manages to be both slick and gritty at the same damn time.  If you liked the 2001 version of Ocean’s Eleven, you owe to yourself to watch this film.  It’s a great heist film.  In fact, it is the best heist film you’ll ever watch.  

The character development in this film is fantastic, especially for a genre flick like a heist film.  Corey (Alain Delon) is portrayed as a complete bad ass.  He gets released from prison early.  The film hints at the fact that his former mob boss screwed him over, so the first thing Corey does is visit him at his home and rip him off, which is pretty ballsy.  When that mob boss sends some thugs to take him out, he dispatches all of them and decides on pulling of a jewelry heist.

This brings us to Vogel.  When we are first introduced to him, Vogel is in police custody, seemingly cooperating.  But he takes the first chance to get to successfully escape his captors.  He hides out in Corey’s car... and after an initial pissing contest between the two, they agree to be partners on this heist.

The two criminals realize they’re going to need one more to pull off the job, so they hire alcoholic ex-cop, Jansen.  Jansen is clearly the most interesting charcter in the whole film.  He’s washed up, a drunk... constantly hallucinating.  But he’s also a master sharpshooter.  He has a great story arc, from being at the rock bottom point in his life, to sobering up, sharpening his skills, and then trying to pull of a huge robbery.  

And what a robbery.  

This whole film plays like a police procedural film from the criminal’s perspective.  They take you through every step.  From the forming of the gang, to the research the three do in “Casing” the joint, to the robbery itself.  And I dare anyone to find a better, better executed robbery scene in films.  The whole thing is silent... which makes complete sense as they DON’T WANT TO GET CAUGHT.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Ocean’s Eleven.  But it’s charm relies on the interaction between the main characters, to the point that the heist is almost secondary.  But these three men in this film are portrayed in a way that they only care about their professional relationship with each other.  They’re not there to be friends, they’re there to make money.  So the heist itself is portrayed in the most realistic fashion.  Three guys trying be as discreet as possible while trying to rob an almost impenetrable jewelery store.  The fact the whole scene is pretty much completely silent heightens the suspense dramatically.

I won’t get into if they get away with it or not.  That’s not really the point.  The point is watching HOW these guys work together and what they do to accomplish their goal.  Le Cercle Rouge is girtty and fun as hell and you owe it to yourself to check it out.

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