Quick recap: Jef Costello is either a great hitman or a really terrible one. After completing a job he almost immediately gets picked up by the police and questioned. He manages to weasel his way out, only to find himself in trouble with the guys who hired him. What’s a hitman to do?
Fun (?) fact: The quotation about samurai at the beginning of the film is entirely fictional. This movie actually has nothing to do with samurai.
My thoughts: Crime movies are a dime a dozen on this list, but very few of them come from France. And of those, this is the only one where I could’ve kept watching for several more hours and at the same time almost lost my sanity because of the incessant bird chirping.
Director Jean-Pierre Melville borrows much of the aesthetic for Le Samouraï from America at the time- slinky jazz clubs, dapper people running around everywhere. And yet, this is very much a French arthouse film. The first 10 minutes have no dialogue whatsoever and yet, the scene is so enthralling. I also loved that there is a mystery about who this hitman is and who hired him but I knew from the beginning that I wouldn’t be getting any answers. Le Samouraï exists within himself. It’s even impossible to figure out whether or not he is a ‘bad guy’. I mean, he killed someone, yes, but that guy could’ve been evil or something. So I ended up dividing my time between wanting the guy to come out on top but also wanting him to get caught and pay for his crimes. It was a rare feeling to not know how I’m supposed to feel about characters.
One reason the characters are so confusing is because the audience is just thrust into the story. We don’t know how many years the hitman has operated or what business the people who hired him have. In the first few scenes, the hitman sets out creating an alibi for himself before he commits the murder. He visits a woman, Jane, and expects her to lie for him, which she does, when the police call her into question. It is assumed that these two have some sort of relationship but it could also just be that she works for him specifically for this purpose. And the police themselves make this plot even more complicated. I could never figure out whether the hitman was really bad at his job and that’s why he was caught so quickly or if the police were really good at their job and it was only a matter of time. Once again, it was hard to know who to trust.
But above all, there is that stupid bird. God, I hated that bird. I recently lost some of my hearing due to sickness and it’s been both a blessing and a curse. But watching this movie, I heard every single chirp. EVERY. SINGLE. CHIRP. I’m sure there is a fancy French reason to put that in so many scenes but I don’t have the patience to find out. I’m not a fan of hurting or killing any animal but when the guys broke into the hitman’s apartment to leave a recording device, I half hoped they would put that poor bird out of its misery. I’m sure he hated his life as much as I hated hearing him but enough is enough.
Final review: 4/5
Up next: Night and Fog