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  • Jeff Beck

Le Samourai: Melville's Classic Crime Thriller Comes to 4K (4K/Blu-ray)


The Film:


Over 50 years ago, filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville, writer/director of such acclaimed classics as "Bob le Flambeur" and "Army of Shadows," delivered what is perhaps his most celebrated film, "Le Samourai," a highly-revered crime drama that is often referred to as being the epitome of cool. Being such a notably regarded film, Criterion actually inducted it into their prestigious collection nearly 20 years ago (with the Blu-ray upgrade released in 2017), but now it's time for it to get the full 4K treatment, so let's go back and explore why this little gangster flick has remained at the forefront of the crime genre for so many decades.


The film revolves around hit man Jef Costello (Alain Delon), who goes about setting up alibis for his latest job by conferring with his girlfriend, Jane (Nathalie Delon), and with acquaintances at a poker game. The actual hit, which is on a nightclub owner, goes smoothly, but several witnesses, including the club's piano player, Valerie (Cathy Rosier), see him leave. Shortly after, Jef is rounded up with a large group of suspects, but is let go after the witnesses can't positively identify him. However, his troubles have just begun as he soon becomes a target of both the people who hired him and an obsessive policeman (François Périer) who attempts to hunt him down.


So what is it about Jean-Pierre Melville's classic thriller that has had critics & film fans singing its praises for over 50 years? If one had to put their finger directly on its greatest attribute, it would likely be its tension-filled narrative, where you never know what is going to happen from moment to moment. From the very start, where we see Jef carefully setting up his alibis, to the hit itself, the suspect round-up with the numerous witnesses, and the relentless game of cat & mouse with the police & his employers, it's a fantastic, edge-of-your-seat tale that has you gripped in its spell from beginning to end. Indeed, the power of a great story can be all a film needs to make a grand impact with its audience.


However, on top of that, you also have the calm, cool, and collected performance of Alain Delon. Armed with his suave get-up of a raincoat & fedora, Delon's straightforward, impassive performance adds to the character's mystery, making him just as unpredictable as the narrative. He's a remarkably strong part of what makes the film so hypnotic, as we watch him go toe-to-toe with both organizations that want to bring him down, while also showing us that there just might be a hint of emotion under that stoic exterior.


These two elements, combined with its stylish designs & filmmaking, make for quite a thrilling experience over the course of its surprisingly fast-paced 105-minute runtime. Because of that, it's not hard to see why it's endured for so long as an oft-cited favorite of the genre and why it would go on to influence many like it with its style, tone, and plot. If you've somehow missed this one in the course of your film travels, then now's a good a time as any to go back and catch up on (or rewatch) this fantastic thriller.


Video/Audio:


This new edition of "Le Samourai" comes with the film on 4K (UHD) and Blu-ray (1080p High Definition), with both presented in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The new 4K digital restoration looks absolutely stunning, no doubt presenting the film in its best form since its original release. Likewise, the uncompressed monaural soundtrack is marvelous, giving you all of the dialogue, sound effects, and music in fantastic quality. Overall, in typical Criterion fashion, there's not a single complaint to be had about the film's presentation for this latest edition.


Special Features:


Authors on Melville: Rui Nogueira (13 Minutes) and Ginette Vincendeau (19 Minutes): A pair of intriguing interviews with authors who've written works on Melville.


The Lineup (24 Minutes): A fascinating set of interviews with Jean-Pierre Melville, Alain Delon, Nathalie Delon, Cathy Rosier, and François Périer in which they discuss cinema and the film.


Melville-Delon: D'Honneur et de nuit (23 Minutes): A short documentary that explores the friendship between Melville and Delon, as well as their collaboration on the film.


Conclusion:


Utilizing a riveting narrative and a compelling, impassive performance from Alain Delon, Jean-Pierre Melville's "Le Samourai" remains a remarkable classic of the crime thriller genre that is still often cited as a prime example of its kind, one that still provides great entertainment & influence over 50 years after its original release.


Score: 4/5


Available on Criterion 4K/Blu-ray starting tomorrow.


Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.


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