French cinema was a key influence on the early mod scene, not least because it was so damn cool on the eye. Le Cercle Rouge is from a slightly later era, but it’s still a pretty stylish (and intelligent) watch.
This is Euro crime at its finest. Not Euro crime in the current trashy hipster sense. This is Euro crime cut from a much better cloth. Yes, people die, but not as many as you might expect. The plot is the real star of this super-cool Jean-Pierre Melville flick.
It is one story, but it’s as many as four (or more) stories, all colliding around a single event, but all with something in common. The lead in this movie is Alain Delon as Corey, fresh out of prison and with a job lined up courtesy of a prison warder. That job is a jewellery store grab. But he needs help to do it.
Corey is soon to be pursued by the henchmen of Paris’ Mr Big, known as Rico, who put him in prison in the first place. An ill-judged hold up at the big man’s house sees to that. He’s not the only one of the run either. Vogel (Gian Maria Volonté) has escaped from the law in a moving train and is being chased by half the force through the French countryside. Which is where he accidentally meets Corey.
Holed up in Paris, the two discuss the robbery, bringing in another man on the run, Jansen (Yves Montand ). He’s running away from the demons of drink. Quite literally (see the movie to find out what that means). He’s the marksmen the pair need to do the job, an ex-police crack shot no less. In the end, the job seems the easy part. Getting away from both sides of the law on their back is the tricky bit.
Le Cercle Rouge isn’t your average hard hitting crime flick. Yes, it has its moments on that front, but there’s much more depth here. The story slowly develops the characters central to the plot, whilst still leaving much to the imagination. As the credits role, you realise you’ve seen Delon’s stylish persona on screen for over two hours and still know very little about him. Dialogue is sparse too. In fact, you don’t hear a word during the long jewel theft scene. Quite simply, it doesn’t need it.
The ending is inevitable well ahead of the closing credits, but you can guess the outcome more or less from the start. No happy ending required here (like the movie version of Get Carter).
What you do get is a movie that mixes depth with directorial skill. There’s a good dose of the classic American crime movie in here, but this is very much a French crime thriller, the kind only the French make. A very stylish one too. Plenty of good French flicks out there, but Le Cercle Rouge is definitely a good place to start.
You’ll be pondering the moustache and trench coat look in no time.
Le Cercle Rouge is available on Blu-ray in the UK.