Berken’s review published on Letterboxd:
"That's how you became unemployed."
#90 on Berken's Favorite Movies Of All Time
There's fewer greater feelings in the life of a cinephile than starting a new movie by a new director and immediately becoming aware that you are in the hands of a master.
Le Samourai opens to a quote that introduces our protagonist as the solitary king of his own jungle and a mise en scène that does the same twice over. In the startlingly accomplished first shot our protagonist occupies a tiny portion of the screen yet nevertheless dominates it, both with his gaze and the casual puffs of smoke that he releases into the air, as if it too were his own. The dank and lonely loft, meanwhile, is framed as though it were an elegant chamber, all high ceilings, majestic shadows, and otherworldly lights spilling through the windows. In a brilliant touch, those same lights are constantly interrupted by the shadows of cars cruising by this man's little castle, the outside world threatening to intrude and dispel the illusion of his dominance. The contradictions on display are immediately evident - a man who is alone yet not lonely; a tiny, insignificant individual in a huge city yet a master within his own little world.
While the majority of the movie can't keep up that same level of artistry and mostly settles for being an unorthodox cat and mouse game with multiple cats and one hell of a compelling mouse and a tight thriller that's suspenseful in ways Hitchcock himself would envy, there is one other scene in which the direction leaves a big impact. A gunfight has just broken out when suddenly the camera switches to the view of a nearby train - the anxious momentum of a moving viewpoint, made even more chaotic for being viewed through the X-pattern of a metal fence, somehow makes the sudden explosion of action feel even more hectic.
Without getting into too big of a spoiler, my primary complaint is how little characterization there is of the target of the final contract. Considering the extremity of the killer's actions, it would have been nice to have some further insight into his motivations.
[NOTE: If you can share any insight into the motivations of characters in the ending in the comments that would be very welcome, just remember to add a SPOILER tag!]