Lara Pop’s review published on Letterboxd:
'I never talk to a man holding a gun.'
'Is that a rule?'
My god, if Melville movies were a person, they would score 100% on the introvert scale, and I simply love it. Jokes aside, Le Samourai has something I've never in my 20 years been quoted to say: the perfect ending. On every scale: subjective, objective, and everything in between.
Jef Costello has become the paradigm of the 'refined assassin' in movies. He is an orderly, systematic man who likes structure and the occasional chaos in the system if elicited by him. He likes things done his way and values being in control over all. He seems physically unfazed but his mental order is disrupted when the movie throws his control off the track by establishing the story's conflict: a botched murder.
Melville's subtlety here blows my mind: the conflict works on an explicit level because the plot is the manifestation of Melville's delicately gritty trademark noir, but the movie has an overarching psychological aspect which skyrockets its subtlety. It is much more about the inner disquietude and conflict within Jef than about the surface-level crime storyline. What is really mind-blowing here is the fact that we never actually get a glimpse, let alone a view, into Jef's internal world. Melville gives us instead a thousand possibilities, all free for interpretation, in Jef's rare moments of physical display of emotion, but his genuine feelings, motives, values, and moral code all but remain covered under his perfectly chiseled, perfectly stoic face. He is apparently able to preserve his all-encompassing stoicism even after he is no longer in control and merely floats with the series of events threatening to engulf him. His true emotional state is only betrayed by small but significant gestures, revealed in Melville's perfectly timed close-ups, most memorably in a brief struggle for self-composure after a fortunate escape from the police in the metro: mid-heavy breathing, a nervous gulp, and quick darting of the eyes; and the next moment, control regained. Check.
And now, back to the ending. As I said, Le Samourai works on two levels, but the movie is truly about the second one. Since Jef's emotional world is inaccessible to the audience, Melville lets Jef's actions speak instead. We have to wait until the final scene to make sense of his inner machinations, but the ending gives perfect closure to both layers of the story. It is the culmination of the one thing Jef has been chasing under his mask of cool indifference: regaining control. Building up to the scene, he goes through his usual preparational routine, but this time he knows the ending. He knows because he is the one who decides when and where it is to happen. And since he does, he is in control.
Ever wondered about the title? Le Samourai. Ever heard of samurai honor? This movie right here is its perfect thesis and antithesis wrapped in one paradoxical perfection. Sure, it is shrouded in Melville's perfectly polished noir layer, but at heart, Le Samourai is a simultaneously cynicism-soaked and stoically tragic journey of an assassin who finds his only way of restoring and preserving his honor of a samurai: by controlling his fate himself.
(Gosh, I'm overwhelmed. This was . . . perfect?)