If you’re looking for a truly captivating and awe-inspiring thriller about a hit man, Le Samourai is definitely a film that won’t let you down. It’s a minimalistic movie, where nothing exciting really happens, but with all the magnificent cinematography, editing techniques, use of various camera angles, and wrapped up with a very original background sounds, Le Samourai comes as a defining picture in the crime genre. It’s a well-developed mixture of a suspense film, inspired by the western crime scene, a bit of a neo-noir experiment, and an addition of European avant-garde directorial skills.
The film starts with a shot at a nearly empty room, with a birdcage in the center. The bird is tweeting loudly, but nothing really happens inside the apartment. It’s a purposely-melancholic moment that will abruptly change with the killer procedure that is about to performed.
Jean-Pierre Melville made a great decision when he cast the young and handsome Alain Delon as Jeff Costello, an utterly calm, smooth, unemotional, scrupulous and ruthless contract killer operating in Paris. He absorbs the viewer’s attention with the tranquil attitude and focus on every smallest detail.
Jeff was always able to create a perfect alibi for himself, with a little help from a mysterious girlfriend named Jane (Nathalie Delon). However, this one time, something went wrong. The human aspect interfered. Even though his confession cleared up after the police interrogated him thoroughly, the inquisitive Superintendent still thought that Jeff was behind the cold-blooded murder that’s been committed in an elegant Parisian nightclub. What’s more, Jeff has been double crossed by his contractor and left with a bullet in the arm instead of promised money.
The film presents an interesting insight into the assassin’s mind, in the moments when he has to deal with both of the institutions that are trying to catch him. His face expression changes maybe twice, he says only a few words in the whole movie, but the viewer is still capable of evaluating his thoughts and character traits, not only through his actions. With all that he’s been doing, going out mostly at night, he detached himself from reality and became lonelier than the loneliest creature – the samurai.
In the process, the director shows a fine perspective on how the French police operate on a daily basis and how they routinely track the prime suspects.
The greatness of the picture is presented in the memorable scene of a chase that takes place in the Parisian metro system. Not a sound can be heard, not a single fight takes place, but it’s still as gripping as ever. The suspense is going through the roof, as Jeff tries to escape from the hands of the all-seeing eyes of the law.
The storytelling abilities of the director are exemplified by his ability to create a picture where only a few words are said, but every one of them is quintessential to the whole.
All in all, I wouldn’t recommend the movie to fans of ultra-violent, gore crime movies that are often produced these days. But I would recommend it to anyone, who is able to appreciate the true beauty of a classic, which provides the cinematic experience of the highest sort. Through the emphasis on small details, where every sound, word, scene, or object is important, Melville created a movie as much about the journey of a contract killer, as it is about the overwhelming loneliness that is able to gradually consume a human being from within, often leading to an unexpected and sad end.