Le Samouraï (1967)

This post was originally published as part of the DVD of the Day series at Superfriends Universe on January 11, 2011.

Le Samouraï

I never lose. Never really.

The Stats

The Director:  Jean-Pierre Melville
The Cast:  Alain Delon, Nathalie Delon and François Périer
The Release Date: 1967
The Runtime: 105 Minutes

The Lowdown

Jef Costello is the perfect hitman. A bad ass who made our Top 100 Movie Bad-Asses, Costello meticulously plans his assassinations out to every detail and he never, ever gets caught. One night, however, he’s seen by witnesses after offing a night club owner. Suddenly, the people who paid him off as well as his alibi all betray him and he’s driven into a corner trying to escape.

An unfair criticism of French films (and foreign cinema in general) is that it’s generally regarded as “art house.” I went to school to study film, so a name like Jean-Pierre Melville holds some weight over the pretentious film snob crowd. What is great about this film is that it gives both the art house audience and the entertainment-only audience a good hybrid. Yes, it’s a movie about a hitman… but it’s really quite beautifully directed.

Melville’s old school. He fought against the Nazis in World War II as part of the French Resistance.  So call him a pretentious director, I dare you.

The crime films of the 40s seemed to have had quite the effect on Melville as this movie is clearly inspired by those noir classics. Pay attention. It’s a film about a hitman, but there is very little in the way of “action.” There are no gunfights and no overly-choreographed fight scenes. There is killing, violence and a chase sequence, yes, but they are there to serve the story, much like the noir films of the 40s. The film relies on 2 major things to tell the story: Melville’s camera work and Alain Delon’s acting. He barely speaks in the film, but his acting is so spot-on that you know exactly what the Jef Costello is thinking purely through body language. After all, he essentially only has 2 facial expressions the whole movie. Which works as a character device, because, after all this guy is a stone-cold killer… he wouldn’t show much expression anyway. He’s also the fastest draw on a gun that you’ll see in pretty much any film. If you don’t walk away from this film without thinking that Jef Costello is one of the greatest bad asses of all time, then there is no hope for you.

The camera work is brilliant. Melville knows exactly where to put the camera to convey intrigue, suspense, etc. The dialogue is almost non-existent, so everything is achieved mostly through camera work. That is a rare accomplishment: Minimalist filmmaking that produces a film with maximum entertainment value.

Final word: One of the greatest hitman movies ever made.

Watch this film if you like movies such as: