Dir: Jules Dassin (Topkapi; The Canterville Ghost)
A crowning acheivement of French noir, Rififi blends a wonderful heist story with a very engaging and troubling character study to produce a wonderful picture. Unafraid to make its characters unappealing, and yet finding room for development within their dark world, Rififi reminds us that codes and honor apply in any context, even among theives.
In what may be the only movie where developing the story through a lounge act actually works, we learn that rififi means "rough stuff," the way of interacting with the world that involves guns, smacking people around, and taking risks. The rewards are great, but in the end it always catches up with you. The cast of theives in the film all represent various takes on this basic theme; the jovial life of the party, the family man with a double life, the safe cracker with a weakness for the ladies, and the brutal Stephanois, the silent but violent leader.
They come together to rob a jewelry store (once again, the best kind of heist). The robbery itself is great, all done without sound and in painstaking detail, forcing us to concentrate on the silence and duration of the whole thing. It is intersting to watch them overcome 1950's theft prevention technology, where muzzling a bell alarm is their biggest challenge. You don't need gizmos in order to generate excitement.
After the heist, complications arise that force the characters to make difficult decisions. Each chooses differently, with their personal flaws either sealing their fate or facilitating their own redemption. It is great stuff, and still comes with the traditional coolness of a heist film to provide crowd pleasing entertainment.
Rififi succeeds in being both populist and intelligent, action oriented and character driven. It is the best of the French noirs I have seen recently, really a tremendous film.