Most of the memorable heist films made over the years, almost as a rule, end on a bad note for their amoral anti-heroes; yet the charm, the cool, the fatalism, the existentialism and the seedy underbelly depicted in them, invariably make them fascinating. Jean-Pierre Melville had a love affair with caper films all through his life, and Le Cercle Rouge, his penultimate work and a terrific exercise in the genre, would easily rank alongside his finest works. Corey (Alain Delon), a laconic man and a lone operator who has just been released after 5 years in prison, literally crashes into Vogel (Gian-Maria Volonté), an escaped convict. They, along with a former cop (Yves Montand), who's a crackshot and an alcoholic, attempt a daring robbery – that of a high-end jewelry story with gargantuan security systems. Two roadblocks, however, throw their perfect plan to the dumps – the difficulty of finding buyers for the loots, and a mild-mannered, cat-loving cop (Bourvil). Instead of the cool and delectable stylishness of his earlier Bob le Flambeur, this was filled to the brim with incredible moodiness, visually and viscerally arresting atmosphere, and a strong sense of existentialism and doom; the near-silent and meticulously detailed heist sequence was highly reminiscent of Dassin’s Rififi. The film was also a wonderful character study of three lonely men who have fallen off the social radar, forever destined to be on the run from their pasts and their futures, and the brief but subtly affecting camaraderie that develops between them. Melville paced the story exceptionally well, and that, along with the filtered visuals, minimalist score and restrained performances, made this a gripping and a supremely engaging watch.
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Genre: Thriller/Crime Thriller/Post-Noir/Heist Film