If you’re looking for a stylish crime epic, look no further than Le Cercle Rouge from 1970. It’s Jean-Pierre Melville magnum opus and one of his last movies. It’s just so incredibly cool and smooth that you will look past any of its few flaws. The first couple of scenes will set you in the right mood for the rest of this engaging thriller. Starring the four biggest stars of French cinema at the time, the cast is simply perfect. Their subdued and yet incredibly powerful performances created these intriguing characters. Intriguing and ultimately doomed, as in any great noir movie. Characters acting out something deep within them, something they cannot control and simply have accepted. Like their propensity for trench coats.
If Le Cercle Rouge was made today it would most definitely be considered pretentious. A veritable definition of style-over-substance approach with a lot of plot holes and a simplistic story. Luckily, that is not the case and Melville’s Le Cercle Rouge is an incredibly immersive masterpiece detailing the desolate world of crime. At the same time if Melville shot it today it would be a delightfully retro-crime experience and he would be praised for it. Proving the skill of this incredibly talented director and writer who influenced so many filmmakers with his movies.
The sheer bravery to use those long scenes with just the ambient noise, hypnotically drawing us into the mind of these characters, is enough to make this one of the best crime movies ever. These are the scenes that modern movies simply skip as too boring or tedious. Here, they play an important role in setting up the tone. And fifty years later, a great reminder of how things were back then making Le Cercle Rouge a perfect period film. Set in the always beautiful and captivating city of Paris, it couldn’t have picked a better place for such a story.
Corey, currently serving time in the Marseille prison, finally reached the end of his sentence. The night before his release, a prison guard tells him about a lucrative job opportunity that he could pull off once free. Corey politely declines, for now. At the same time, Commissaire Mattei is secretly transporting a dangerous prisoner, posing as a regular passenger aboard a train.
Did I mention that Le Cercle Rouge is also a heist movie? Well, it is and a damn good one for that matter. I mean, it’s not Rififi as the focus is more on the characters than on the act of the robbery. This is a relatively long movie with a steady pace so be sure to make room for its runtime of almost two and half hours. Trust me, it will never get boring. Authentic and impressive cinematography combined with masterful camerawork made it visually appealing. Especially since you know what you’re getting yourself into. You will get exactly what you want. A raw, gritty, and stylish noir thriller that will prompt you to check out the rest of Melville’s movies. I recommend you start with Le Samouraï and Un Flic, working your way backward and inevitably ending with Bob le Flambeur.
Despite some grand scenes, Le Cercle Rouge feels like a very personal movie. Like it’s made just for you giving you a look into a world completely different from ours. I can only imagine how impactful it was at the time it was released. And don’t think that this is some grainy square-looking shit. Remastered and released on Blu-Ray it looks phenomenal. This is a movie that requires a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of whiskey to be enjoyed fully. And if you smoke something else, that too will be alright. Enjoy.
Director: Jean-Pierre Melville
Writer: Jean-Pierre Melville
Cast: Alain Delon, Bourvil, Gian Maria Volontè, Yves Montand, Paul Crauchet, Paul Amiot, François Périer, André Ekyan,
Fun Facts: The Opening Credits show a quote that explains the title of the film. The epigraph, credited to Buddha, was in fact written by director Jean-Pierre Melville. He also wrote the epigraph in Le samouraï (1967), credited to the Book of Bushido.