Le Cercle Rouge (Day 47)

Le Cercle RougeMy Opinion: 7.1 || A clockwork thriller that delivers a beautifully filmed heist sequence and great cat-and-mouse tension. The characters are standard hardboiled types, and some elements of the plot don’t hold up under close scrutiny, but Melville manipulates everything with tremendous aplomb.

TITLE: Le Cercle Rouge
DIRECTOR: Jean-Pierre Melville
LANGUAGE: French | COUNTRY: France
YEAR: 1970
PROFILE: Thriller | 140 minutes | IMDb (8.1)

SYNOPSIS (Courtesy of IMDb): Corey is a cool, aristocratic thief, released from prison on the same day that Vogel, a murderer, escapes from the custody of the patient Mattei, a cat-loving police superintendent. Corey robs Rico, his mob boss, then enlists Vogel and an ex-police sharpshooter, Jansen, in a jewel heist. While Corey is harried by the vengeful Rico, Mattei pressures Santi, a nightclub owner and pimp, to help him trap the thieves. Over all hangs the judgment of the police director that every man is guilty.

Le Cercle Rouge

Strengths: Melville is masterful in using silences, and the centerpiece heist rivals the similarly taut and quiet sequence in Rififi. Although the film moves at what could be considered a slow pace (and isn’t short), the story never drags. Melville gets the hook in early and reels us steadily in, jerking the line at just the right points.

Weaknesses: There are a few far-fetched coincidences, lucky breaks, and dangling threads. And Corey assembles his high-performing heist team with a little too much ease. Melville attempts to establish a philosophical touchstone — the police director’s contested assertion that every man is guilty — that’s not well supported by the surrounding story.

Le Cercle Rouge

Characters/Performances: There’s a difference between well defined (which these characters are) and three-dimensional (they aren’t). For the most part, Melville doesn’t try — we get zero back story on most characters — and when he does give it a go, most notably with Yves Montand’s alcoholic sniper, it’s more of a gesture than a full attempt.

Best Moment: The heist. Maybe not quite as good as Rififi’s but clearly influenced by it and nearly as tense. More evidence of the cinematic power of silence.

File Under: heist, caper, fugitives, double-crosses, cool customers