“Le Samouraï” – Nathan’s Movie Challenge, Week 6
“Who are you? Doesn’t matter. What do you want? To kill you.”
This wasn’t at all what I was expecting. I thought it was going to be something to do with Samurai, and instead, it’s a contemplative, film-noir crime drama. Also, it’s French. Very French.
The main character of Jef is the textbook hitman. He’s a lone wolf paid to do a job. It’s nothing personal. It’s business. He’s got the hat, the trenchcoat, and the deadpan expression. He’s meticulous, careful, and talks only when necessary.
I liked the score, the framing of shots, the attention to detail in the way sets were dressed, and the way they employed a “less is more” style of storytelling throughout the film. There wasn’t a need for excessive dialogue – the visuals painted the picture and the emotions just fine on their own.
It’s a relatively simple story of cat and mouse between our “samurai” and the police on his tail, but you can immediately see how it has visually and tonally influenced many action thrillers and crime films like the Jason Bourne series, The French Connection, and more modern fare like the recent Drive from 2011 or last year’s John Wick.
The ending is a little lackluster, and the action is certainly subdued compared to films made now, but it doesn’t make it any less effective of a film overall. It looks cool, it sounds cool, and it tells its tale with class. Good on you, Jean-Pierre Melville. This is the first French New Wave film I’ve rather enjoyed. I’m now tempted to seek out other films like Godard’s Alphaville and Truffaut’s The Bride Wore Block just to see what some of his contemporaries do in the genre.
Le Samouraï was at the time of this review at #29 on my Flickchart list of shame (ranked #94 among the best movies of all time). Here’s how it entered my chart:
Le Samouraï vs. The Book of Life
I was pleasantly surprised by how good The Book of Life was, and I think it flew way under-the-radar of most of the theater-going public last year. It’s got a really cool art style, a good story, and well-realized characters. That being said, Le Samouraï is definitely the stronger film.
Le Samouraï vs. Scrooged
Scrooged! What a tough contender! Bill Murray is so good, and it’s such a bizarre Christmas tale – I can’t in good conscience not choose it as the victor here.
Le Samouraï vs. It Might Get Loud
Documentaries always have a tough time beating a regular narrative film, and this one certainly won’t best Le Samouraï. It’s alright, but it’s not very informative or eye-opening. It’s really just three guitarists jamming and chatting a bit about their influences.
Le Samouraï vs. Cold Souls
Another movie that’s relatively passed over is Cold Souls – a funky little sci-fi drama starring Paul Giamatti. It’s kind of like a strange, dark comedy version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind from a completely different angle. Worth checking out, but Le Samouraï is going to take the crown here.
Le Samouraï vs. Face/Off
There are few films that are as hammy and ridiculous as Face/Off. Nicolas Cage and John Travolta chew every scene to a pulp, and it’s loads of fun, but it’s not as good a movie as Le Samouraï.
Le Samouraï vs. Teen Wolf
Of course Teen Wolf is not going to win against Le Samouraï. How could it? I don’t think it’s possible.
Le Samouraï vs. Young Adult
Young Adult is a much stronger film that it’s probably given credit for. All the performances are solid, and the script is nuanaced with varied emotions on display. I’m giving it the nod over Le Samouraï.
Le Samouraï vs. Surrogates
Another film that’s borderline impossibly stupid, but still kind of cool in its conceit, Surrogates is not great, but it’s enjoyable in its absurdity. Le Samouraï wins though, certainly.
Le Samouraï vs. Contagion
Steven Soderbergh’s film will make you want to wash your hands constantly, but it’s a little overlong, and not particularly satisfying – unless you like lots of deceit, horrible disease symptoms, and death. Le Samouraï wins.
Le Samouraï is now ranked #355 out of 1369 movies on my Best Movies of All-Time chart.
Last film for this week is another non-English film: Persona. There are a lot of other films I’ve ranked in the challenge that you can check out in the meantime.