DVD, Blu-Ray Movie Review
Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, Written by Jean-Pierre Melville, 140 minutes, Unrated.
By our guest blogger, Matthew Schimkowitz
Few styles in cinema have that instant cool factor quite like film noir. It's shadowy lights, crackling dialogue and incriminating perspective are all too frequently revived, revised and recycled, without much variation. While lesser filmmakers use the conventions for stylistic purposes, it takes a true genius to make those attributes their own.
Jean-Pierre Melville does just that. "Le Cercle Rouge" isn't a traditional film noir; its bad guys aren't relatable; Melville distances us from the crime, rather than implicating us in it; and the dialogue is sparse and direct. To this effect, Melville does the exact opposite of what noir is supposed to do. But by slowing things down, the auteur creates a surprisingly quiet caper that is as taut as any classic noir and doesn't skimp on any of the cool.
A smooth, tight-lipped ex-con, Corey (Alain Delon), and an boorish fugitive, Vogel (Gian Maria Volonté), plan an intricate jewel heist, while averting the trail of an overtly determined police officer (Bourvil).
Melville lets the camera do the talking and stretches his simple plot over two and half tense hours. Utilizing every space, each shot carefully creates a relationship between the characters and their surroundings. Whether he's lingering on a wide shot or an alarm system, Melville’s static moments build tension. The cast matches the director's patience, relying mostly on a series of hard stares to get their point across. “Rouge” is painfully slow at times, but leaves the viewer in complete suspense.
All these squints and sighs build towards the fantastic and intricate third act heist. Melville and his cast are so precise in their actions that even the most out of step movement can send jolts through the frame. It’s a nail-biting conclusion that rewards our patience.
"Le Cercle Rouge" is a very different experience. Melville uses his spaces and actors to focus on the tightly wound caper and constructs his noir in a new and subversive way. By distancing us from the characters, he uses tension to pull us in. No longer are we, the audience, implicated in the crime on screen, we are mere observers. But as the film argues, we are far from innocent.