Les Samourai sucked me in from the opening scene. Director Jean-Pierre Melville
is often credited as being a precursor to the French New Wave Filmmakers such
as Francois Truffaut whose film, The 400 Blows, was rated by the Film Club
earlier this year. Several modern directors and film critics have labeled this
film as "near perfection", and I would quibble only slightly with that
The film is in color, but style conveys black and white film noir. Very little dialog -- my
recommendation is to watch it once with the subtitles to get the gist of the
plot, and then watch it again with the subtitles turned off to let the movie
unfold visually. The attention to detail in every scene is not easily
appreciated except after repeated viewings.
Plot is weakest element, but this is that rare kind of movie where my reaction
was primarily "who cares". The general plot is straightforward and the ending
left me more satisfied than frustrated, despite a few loose ends. (If the loose
ends in the plot had been resolved at the end, I would have changed my overall
rating from a 4 to a 5).
So what is the movie about? This movie is about an individual who lives by a
strict code of conduct, who is unable to maintain this code, and who must,
because of this, "fall on his sword" at the end -- hence the title, Les
Samourai. However, a traditional Samurai is usually characterized as being
honorable, engendering respect, and even heroic. The main character, Jeff
Costello (played by Alain Delon) is none of the above. Psychologically, this is
a compulsive individual whose "master" is his compulsion. He makes a living as a
hired assassin, a job in which this psychological "disorder" serves him well.
This fact is made implicitly, but very deliberately in the film: For example, note that
several of his behavioral patterns are identical when carrying out different assassinations, and
note the arrangement of his personal items in his personal space. At the
beginning of the movie we see Jeff is in his element and in control. However,
as the movie progresses, something else is revealed, in a very subtle but
powerful manner -- the extent that Jeff's life is a lonely existence (Like a
tiger in the jungle as referenced in the opening scene of the movie). What
happens to an individual like this when external events start causing him to
lose control over his personal environment? That is what this movie is
about! Superbly done!
I gave this movie a rating of 4 stars.