The cool kids all dig John Woo, Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch, and Wong Kar-Wai, and those filmmakers all love Jean-Pierre Melville. Thusly, the laws of syllogism dictate that the cool kids will also adore Melville, whose Bob le Flambeur was just remade into The Good Thief. They'll get a chance to fall in love with the re-release of his 1970 flick Le Cercle Rouge this week at the Little Theatre (beginning Friday, June 6), and they'll have even more to admire than the generation before them, because an additional 40 minutes have been added to the version originally seen in the US.
Geeks like me who meticulously studied the Criterion Collection LaserDisk of The Killer already know that Woo (whose moniker appears in the re-release's official title as a "presenter") worships Melville's films, particularly 1967's Le Samouraï. Its protagonist, played by Alain Delon, serves as the hip template for the double-fisted gunslingers of Woo's own flicks. While Rouge isn't quite as dazzling as Le Samouraï, it's still an amazing and important heist film, especially coming so soon on the heels of duds like The Italian Job and Confidence. Plus, those films don't have the omnipresent cigarettes, the tightly belted trench coats, the tiny handguns, the stiff-brimmed hats, or the cool air of both immortality and nonchalance.
Rouge is about a diamond theft committed by three men who are each being chased by their pasts. We first see the handcuffed Vogel (Gian-Maria Volonte) being led onto a Marseilles-to-Paris train by the feline-obsessed Commissaire Mattei (André Bourvil). He eventually picks the lock on his cuffs, kicks out the window in their sleeper car, and jumps from the moving train. Mattei follows him into the woods, quickly loses him, but never gives up the chase, as he fears the incident will cripple his reputation.
Meanwhile, Corey (Delon, looking quite similar to DeNiro in The Godfather: Part II) is a day away from being sprung from prison when he's approached by a guard who tips him off to a potential beauty of a heist. We learn, after his release, that Corey took the fall for a mob boss named Rico (André Ekyan), who he immediately visits and rips off in a brilliant late-night scene. While he's on the run from Rico's cronies, fate brings Corey and Vogel together, and what follows is one of the finest moments of Rouge, perfectly capturing the code of, and honor among, thieves.
The two men recruit an ex-police-sharpshooter-turned-drunk named Jansen (Yves Montand) to help them disable their target's alarm with a carefully placed bullet (he's on the run from the bottle). Their Place Vendôme jewel snatch, which goes on, sans dialogue, for around 30 minutes (a la Jules Dassin's noir heist masterpiece Rififi) features enough tight choreography to make the "daring rescue" of PFC Jessica Lynch look spontaneous. In fact, Rouge is practically a silent movie, so if you're the type who needs explosions and dumb one-liners to keep you interested, well, 2 Fast 2 Furious opens this weekend, too.
Patrice Leconte's The Man On the Train (opening Friday, June 6, at the Little) sounds like a cliché-riddled mess. Two polar opposites meet and envy one other's lifestyles --- it's been done before. If Train were an American film, one of the characters would probably stumble upon and invoke some ancient incantation that would, after appearing to do nothing, eventually occasion some sort of spirit-swap. And in that American film, the two characters would probably be played by Oscar-winners Tommy Lee Jones and Cuba Gooding, Jr.
Luckily, Train, like Leconte, hails from France. Instead of Gooding, we get the plastic surgery-loving rocker Johnny Hallyday as Milan, a character we meet as he takes a train to a tiny provincial town. Milan, who is the titular man on the titular train, is to meet three other men in this town, where they have planned to knock over a bank. When he arrives at his destination, Milan discovers the town's only hotel is closed for the season, which ratchets up his tension headache another couple of degrees.
While at the pharmacy in search of something to ease the pain, Milan runs into Manesquier (Lost In La Mancha's Jean Rochefort, stepping in for T.L. Jones), a retired poetry teacher who has lived alone since his mother died some years back. Yes, Manesquier's home is quite large; and no, he wouldn't mind at all if Milan crashed there for a couple of days. The two men retreat to Manesquier's mansion.
So here we have the scruffy, leather-jacketed Milan, looking every bit like a lifetime criminal, and the doddering Manesquier, with slippers and a pipe. One is a risk-taker who wishes he could just sit around a big, empty house and chill out for a while. The other sits around a big, empty house and chills out, but really craves more excitement. This cinematic Yin-Yang relationship is completed when both characters go through potentially life-changing experiences --- the bank job for Milan, triple-bypass surgery for Manesquier.
Leconte manages to stretch this very simple story into a very watchable film. In the process, he adds one more notch to an eclectic filmography that makes him somewhat of a French John Sayles.
The story was penned by 70-year-old novelist Claude Klotz. Klotz has written original screenplays for Leconte before, but he probably didn't come up with the nifty idea of each character having their own scores (Milan's is cool guitar, Manesquier's is classical piano stuff), which slowly blend into one another.
Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.