The Film (5/5)
The list of films I desperately want on the Blu-ray format is narrowing down to just a few titles now it seems. The Criterion release of Jean-Pierre Melville's seminal crime/noir classic Le Samourai scratches a very large title off that list. From the first moment I saw Melville's film, with it's hypnotic score, and minimalist and enchanting Alain Delon lead performance in my early 20's, it immediately shot it's way up to the top of the list of my favorite films.
Le Samourai follows Jef Costello (Alain Delon), a methodical assassin who was hired to kill a nightclub owner. As he exits the club from his latest job, he is spotted by a piano player, who for unknown reasons covers his tracks. The police try to interrogate Costello, but are unable to get anything to stick, since he works out an alibi for in advance of every job. However, his "bosses" or at the very least the people who paid him for this particular job are upset with him for being seen, and attempt to kill him when he goes to collect his payment. At this point Costello gets caught between 2 worlds cops and criminals, and tries to navigate between both, to find out who set up his last job, and is now trying to kill him, and also to get free of the police inspection.
It is cliché to say this, but Le Samourai could easily be described as the "coolest" gangster film ever made. Every once in a while, a film like Drive or Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai try to pay homage to it, but cannot touch the steely tone of the Melville original. The film is shot in simply by Melville, with a fitting minimalist electronic soundtrack. The performance by Alain Delon is one for the ages. Everything from his icy facial expressions to his outfit, are the definition of cool in cinema.
Of course, the film is not just a purely visual piece meant to show off the coolness of the actor and director. This is one of the finest crime films of the 60's if not all time. It is intricately plotted down to the most minute detail, and while the film's ending is pretty much the only way it could end. The various ways Melville sets things up for Costello you can see this is a character who knows how to play the long game with everything he does, and it gives the film both a hypnotic and suspenseful effect as viewers are drawn in to the end.
This was certainly worth waiting a decade for, Criterion presents Le Samourai in a splendid 1:85:1 1080p AVC encoded transfer that looks excellent. Detail is excellent throughout, colors are reproduced nicely, grain is natural, but kept to a minimum, and the only issue I could find are some minor instance of black crush during the film's darker moments.
Audio is handled by an LPCM mono track in French which sounds excellent. The track comes through clear and concise with dialogue and score coming through perfectly.
Criterion has put quite a decent extras slate together for their release of Le Samourai. We get 25 minutes of archival interviews with the cast and crew of the film, a documentary, 2 authors on Le Samourai, a trailer, and a booklet of liner notes.
Le Samourai is one of the great classics of French cinema. Criterion has finally gotten this one a release on American shores, and it is a true beauty. The extras are a nice addition, and of course this comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.