Top positive review
34 people found this helpful
Melville's meticulous masterpiece
on 6 September 2004
If you like special effects, big explosions, & Will Smith films, you'll find this agonizingly slow and boring.
Personally, I think it's one of the finest genre films ever made.
"Le Cercle Rouge" is an underworld epic. Bigger in scale, more complex in plotting and nuance than Melville's previous masterpiece "Le Samurai"; at times it seems like a bleak, minimalist precursor of Michael Mann's "Heat" - without that film's pretentious L.A. psychobabble.
Needless to say, Quentin Tarantino is a big fan of "Le Cercle Rouge". You can't really compare his gasbag protagonists to the taciturn über-cool of Alain Delon, but like Tarantino, Melville was something of a cinema anorak. "Le Cercle Rouge" self-consciously borrows the trenchcoats and stock situations of 1940s film noir ("released convict double-crossed by former colleagues", "alcholic sharpshooter redeemed by one-last-job"). But there's no gleeful violence, femme fatales, or hard-boiled wisecracks here.
Instead Melville's mastery of classical Hollywood film-making mirrors itself in a complex professional duel between the underworld and police. The crooks have an intricate technical grasp of their shady profession, but don't fully appreciate the human weaknesses of their criminal intermediaries until they enter "the red circle" and Inspector Mattei's rat-trap is sprung.
The brilliance of "Le Cercle Rouge" really becomes obvious in its set-pieces: Vogel's escape from custody and, above all, the jewellery heist.
Vogel's escape at the start of the film reminds me of the audaciously drawn-out opening of Leone's "Once Upon A Time In The West".
The heist is a masterpiece of Hitchcockian suspense. No blazing guns - these pros are far too cool for that! - just 25 minutes of nail-biting silence as the three robbers carefully unpick the defences of a high-class jewellery boutique. Some of their tricks nowadays look a bit dated - why did "impenetrable" high security vaults always use those electric-eye alarms that anyone can lambada underneath? - but I'll bet in 1970 "Le Cercle Rouge" gave away plenty of trade secrets.
The gripping futility of "Le Cercle Rouge" is heightened by Eric Demarsan's downbeat jazz score and Henri Decae's muted photography of wintry French landscapes (Melville called this a "black & white color film").
Melville's love of American culture inevitably marked his card with the left-wing chieftans of arthouse cinema, which perhaps explains why this re-release has been so long overdue. Now can someone please re-release "Le Deuxième souffle" and "L'Armée des ombres"?...