Steven Sheehan’s review published on Letterboxd:
By choosing Alain Delon for the role of Jef Costello - the brooding, silent assassin who slinks through the murky shadows of the Parisian night - Jean-Pierre Melville highlights the importance of casting. Finding the right person who can disappear into their character and embody their spirit. When the frame can be focused on a face that so clearly tells a story of its own, the symbiotic relationship between director and performer evolves beyond the expectations of standard storytelling.
Very quickly after meeting the assassin, questions about Costello quickly rack up. Where has he come from to arrive at this point in his life as a consummate professional killer for hire? How long has he been living in solitude tending to his caged bird between contracts? What is his relationship to the mechanic who changes his car plates and refreshes his licence papers? So potent is the blank, emotionless look on Costello's face that none of the answers to these questions matter at all.
Starting as it means to go on, the first ten minutes are without dialogue following the meticulous methods of Costello in preparation for completion of his contract. These actions have been carried out an endless amount of times, each calculated chess piece navigating toward the Queen and check-mate.
Le Samourai is possibly more a criminal procedural than a police one given the time we spend with Costello preparing and evading capture. His arrest for the nightclub murder positions him as a prime target for his employers and the police. He leads them both on an intense game of cat and mouse whilst he juggles the two women who hold the key to his downfall. The only key Costello can't pull out of his trenchcoat.
Melville's exact direction is a joy to behold, never wasting a line of dialogue nor a single frame. This is filmmaking at its leanest, trimming off any hint of excess. Everything slots into place with the same precision of its detached protagonist and you would be hard pressed to not call this a perfectly made film. Costello is dressed as handsomely as he looks and the sharp outline of his figure dominates every shot he is in. The colours all around him are drained of their vibrancy which forms a stark silhouetted character around his presence.
We know nothing about this man except his profession. He murders in cold blood for money. He lives alone in a dank, faceless apartment. He is detached from the world and any meaningful relationship that we know of. Despite this we are rooting for him to succeed and find a way to navigate out of this mess. He respects his work and stays loyal to his word. Costello has an ethical code that whilst never explained becomes clear enough for us to admire and share those beliefs.
Le Samourai is death dressed in immaculate attire crossing through the items on his checklist until the job is done. It is a masterful piece of cinema that marries an elegant style with its ice cold depiction of Jef Costello's noble story. He wouldn't have the slightest interest in your existence unless he was paid to but nonetheless you are fascinated by his.