Dir: Jean-Pierre Melville (Le Samourai; Bob le Flambeur)
The third minimilast noir from Melville that I have seen recently, and this caper film is the best of the lot. The action is a tad less cerebral than Samourai, and a tad more familiar than Flambeur. All three are outstanding pictures, but I found this one to be the most entertaining and satifsying of them.
Two theives recently out of prison (one by release, one by escape) team up with a crooked ex-cop to rob a jewelry store. Of all the possible heists, I like jewelry store pictures the best. Banks are usually done with lots of gun play and blowing up safes and the like. But the jewelry store, or art gallery, is about patiently overcoming technological defenses in the dead of night and over a period of time. The demands for silence, stealth, and steely control create a lot more tension and excitement than most other crimes.
Le Cercle Rouge does retain many of the thematic elements of Melville's other films. The East/West connection through the silent warrior is preserved. In fact the movie's title and main symbol comes from the words of the Buddha. The sparseness of dialogue, the way the characters communicate through sublte gestures and never betray their inner motivations is also here. Maybe no moviemaker I have seen has told better stories with fewer words than Melville.
A special performace is given by Yves Montand as the thristy ex-cop who happens to be a heck of a shot. By then a suave veteran screen star, Montand's supporting role is suprising in its grit, and the clever way that Melville represents his inner demons. Very familiar, actually trite, story line, but it is handled very well here.
Much of the first half of the movie is spent as both our protagonists are chased by the cops and the mob. The film is actually non-stop action, if in the muted and leisurley pace that Melville likes to set. I found it engaging throughout.
Good place to start for Melville, I think. This movie holds many hallmarks of crime stories we are familiar with, and was very entertaining.