For the longest time I refused to watch Rififi, a French black and white heist movie convinced it’s too outdated. Finally, a couple of weeks ago, it blew me the fuck away. The reason why I’m writing this intro is to ask you to not be as dumb as I was and see this masterpiece. Of course, time it right and keep it in the back of your mind as this gritty, and intense heist movie that you should check out. I am certain that before you know it, you will find yourself in a position where you’re sitting in a dimly lit room and aching for a shot of whiskey and a cigarette after Rififi.
This is a noir masterpiece, a straight-forward, no-bullshit crime extravaganza that influenced so many movies that came after it. And not just movies, as Rififi was pulled from Mexican theaters after a series of burglaries were committed using the same methods. You can’t make this shit up. Finland also banned it because it was basically an educational video for future robbers. Jules Dassin, blacklisted in Hollywood as a member of a communist party, shot the movie with an extremely small budget. Filming only on rainy and cloudy days he tried to make it as gloomy as possible.
Tony just got out of jail, spending his day gambling and drinking until the early hours of the morning. His friend Jo tries to get him on the straight and narrow by proposing a daring heist. Tony refuses at first but after some unfortunate events, he decides to accept the invitation. They recruit a couple more professionals and start planning the heist meticulously…
Focused on the details, mimicking not only the real heist but also the very process of filmmaking, Rififi is a thrilling experience. The characters we follow feel realistic and compelling. They are all guided by an old-school criminal code. By the time they are ready to begin the operation, you will feel for each of them. They all have different lifestyles but one thing is bringing them together, a big, juicy heist. The heist that’s the bulk of this almost two-hour movie.
The atmosphere of this movie is something else. Shrouded in cigarette smoke, suspense, and despair mixed with excitement, it’s incredibly immersive. When you add to that characters that feel doomed from the start what you get is a masterpiece. A masterpiece shot almost seventy years ago, so it also doubles as a period movie. As it unfolds, it will blow you away with each new clever development, just as you start to notice other things. I will leave them for you to find out because that’s one of the main features of Rififi.
This is, in my opinion, the best heist movie ever released. Everything fits so well together that I cannot single out any aspect of the movie as flawed. And what about that fucking ending? Who do you think the boy represents and who the man? If you’re looking for movies similar to Rififi, I recommend The Bank Job, Baby Driver, Heat, and The Hard Word. And if you want to continue your exploration of French noir movies here are a couple of great ones: Bob Le Flambeur, Le Trou, Elevator to the Gallows, Le Doulos and Le Deuxième Souffle. Enjoy.
Director: Jules Dassin
Writers: Jules Dassin, René Wheeler, Auguste Le Breton
Cast: Jean Servais, Carl Möhner, Robert Manuel, Janine Darcey, Pierre Grasset, Robert Hossein, Marcel Lupovici, Dominique Maurin
Fun Facts: The word Rififi is a French slang for chest puffing or a show of force. I guess the appropriate translation to modern crime vocabulary is flexing.