With a trench-coat mantle, concealing & revealing sangfroid and undemonstrative threat, Alain Delon is all smooth legato lines under the crisp brim of his fedora as the nearly still, nearly silent contract killer in Jean-Pierre Melville’s minimalist (or is it reductio ad absurdum?) thriller. His adversary? Chief Detective François Périer, all unfocused staccato energy. But even Delon’s existential cool won’t get you past the finish line in Melville’s fatalistic world view. Instead, an understated, unforgettable frisson to the journey, laid out by the director in impeccably staged chase & release set pieces, caught in gorgeous subdued shades of mottled grey, taupe, pale blue, textured walls (and one shockingly red telephone) via Henri Dacaë’s plus-perfect lensing, visually a good decade and a half ahead of its time.* While on the soundtrack, a more than reasonable facsimile of Miles Davis stoppered jazz stylings between the insistent tweeting of a coal mine canary. Just right. With its grace, precision, inscrutable women, and air-tight illogical logic, the film is to Melville what VERTIGO is to Hitchcock.
DOUBLE-BILL: *See Dacaë bring his French New Wave ‘A’ game to the American commercial cinema in the preposterously enjoyable nonsense of THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL/’78.