Le Samouraï

Le Samouraï ★★★★½

We look back on films like Le Samouraï and marvel at how ahead-of-their-time they appear to be. If we are able to identify in retrospect the precedent it set, think how surprised contemporary audiences would have been when confronted with a thriller this good, the quality of which can only have been surpassed up to then by Hitchcock's best.

The plot is spare and simple. A hired assassin, Jef Costello, is paid to bump off a nightclub owner. He sees the job through, but is arrested in connection with the crime. Luckily for him he is let off the hook, but only precariously; the investigating officer is convinced he's the culprit and becomes determined to trap him. Meanwhile, the mob who hired him are also bent on killing him for his failure to make a watertight job of things, so Costello is forced to fend off two enemies, all the while attempting to fulfil a contract in which he is to murder the nightclub's pianist.

Watching Le Samouraï, I was reminded of two films. Essentially it is The Day of the Jackal but if Blondie from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly were the central character. Like Blondie, Costello speaks rarely, and never before he's addressed first. Like the Jackal, he appears to be cold-blooded to the core, and persists in completing a killing job as methodically as anything. However, he's not entirely indestructible, and when he sustains a wound part-way through the film, his downward spiral is pre-ordained. Add to this, the magnificent ending provides a dastardly twist that makes us question the entire nature of the man we've just seen killing his way to safety for an hour and forty minutes.

Director Jean-Pierre Melville handles everything with the same meticulous dexterity, and while Alain Delon's portrayal of a murderous automaton is convincing, it's he who makes the film linger There are several magnificent, silent set pieces, the best of which has to be the bugging of Costello's apartment by gangsters.

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