Stylish, cool, and calm, Le Samouraï is a film that casts a spell, one that transports you to a world of crime that is both glamorous and mysterious. It is very procedural and technical, filled with the minutiae of police investigation. There’s a lot of walking and stalking. The lead is a wounded wolf, trying to avoid his fate. He’s always a suspect, but also smart and one step ahead of the police. The execution of Le Samouraï uses a very sparse approach, focusing on action instead of words and so much is left without an explanation. The mysterious ending is just one part of decoding the whole piece. Le Samouraï is a spellbinding neo-noir, of superior style and effortless cool. It’s brilliantly made and absolutely hypnotic.
Jean-Pierre Melville was a master of cinematic craft, with a highly precise style that is on full display in Le Samouraï. Every shot looks spectacular, dripping in atmosphere and tension. As the film is told so visually, the story requires a lot of inference. The motives of the lead assassin, as well as the police investigating him, are very simple: just to do a paid job, whether that be killing a man or catching a criminal. They exist in a symbiotic way, each needing the other. However the film leaves us guessing within each moment, unsure of the reasons behind the specific actions of the characters and how they will achieve their goals. Le Samouraï is a film that gives us two archetypal forces in society, the criminal and the lawman, and then presents them in a matter-of-fact way that doesn’t depend on exposition. We just follow them, on a compelling chase that we can’t predict the ending of.
Leading the cast is Alain Delon, who spent the 1960s working with many of Europe’s finest arthouse directors, like Michelangelo Antonioni, Louis Malle, and Luchino Visconti. However his collaborations with Melville stand out and Le Samouraï is perhaps his most iconic performance. His character exudes cool, as he casually wanders Paris preparing alibis and setting up his crimes. Delon’s presence is very evocative, though he remains fairly emotionless. He’s perfect for this world of quiet mystery.
Le Samouraï towers tall as one of the great crime thrillers of its era, made with intelligence and plenty of style. It is helmed by a director of immense skill and led by a talented and charismatic actor. There’s little to fault in Le Samouraï and it remains exciting and enticing to this day.
The Blu-Ray from Criterion has a series of interviews including 2 from writers on Melville and a whole host of archival interviews with cast and crew. There is also a short featurette on the film and the film’s trailer. The release includes a nice bootleg with a essay from David Thomson, an appreciation from John Woo whose The Killer was influenced by Le Samourai and excerpts from Melville on Melville by Rui Nogueira.