Thursday, January 5, 2012

Three Thieves Plotted and Schemed

Despite having viewed two of his other movies, Le samouraï, and Le Doulos, I decided to discuss Melville's 1970 crime drama/gangster movie not only because I own it, but because its become a new favorite of mine. Despite being better than Le Doulos but not as good as Le samouraï, it is still a great film, made in a similar vein. Only instead of one man living by a strict code of honor, its three men from different backgrounds brought together by the common goal of a grand heist. Say what you what you will about the men, but the film makes it rather clear that not only this is the life they've chosen, but forces beyond their control and society having already decided their lives results in them having no choice but to break the law.

If the thought of thieves and murders have a code of honor which they obey, and that no one else understands sounds familiar, then perhaps you are already thinking of John Woo's movies in the 80s and 90s. In fact, Woo wrote an essay for the film's Criterion release, and after reading it I further understand the movie's themes, and the impact it and other Melville works have had on Woo's career. Just like Meville I've only viewed three of Woo's movies, but The Killer and Hard Boiled both bear the same stamp that Le samouraï, Le cercle rouge, and Le Doulos made on Woo's films. Although I think that Le Doulos is in some ways quite different from the other two Meville films. I wish I had more to go on concerning Melville, so this review could get an update in the next couple of years.

What's even more fascinating about Le cercle rouge, and why it takes its place among top tier crime movies, is how Melville lets us examine and judge his characters. We find them to be less than moral, and yet instead of the police they abide by their code of conduct. I wouldn't say that the police are portrayed in a negative light, but rather they are seen as the opposing force set against the band of anti-heroes. If Melvillle could be accused of backing a group with a murder, a burnt out ex-cop turning to crime, and a career thief, and perhaps even painting them as "Cool," then he suffers from the same charges that have been leveled at Woo as well. I don't think they are fair, really, especially considering how these types of movies turn out. The heist scene alone is perfect, combining suspense with a level of timing, yet its barely takes up most of the film and really doesn't have the same level of importance.

Oh and on a further note, I did like how Melville gave the cops pursuing the gang a face with the aging, old detective. Although by now something of a cliche, the dogged policeman endlessly chasing people is something that was still a tad fresh even in the early 1970s. Not sure we needed scenes of him at his home, though-I felt those were the weakest elements in the film.

Nope, instead the group's attempts to constantly avoid capture and to profit from their success usually is the more entertaining, and captivating, part of this film, although that's not true of all heist movies. Yet Melville's sad portrayal of destiny and an inability to escape one's fate in life makes the final act more film noir than gangster movie. Its a quality that he has in his crime films that make them more engaging and real than any average crime drama or movie about criminals. What a welcomed addition to my movie collection, and really a film that I think could be discussed a little bit more.

PS: I've noticed that I like to buy crime movies on Criterion a lot. The genre endlessly fascinates me, and many of the movies they have in the collection are ones I've never even heard of before. Although this review stems from a second viewing-I rented it from my local library before I ended up purchasing it at Barnes and Noble.

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