Jean Pierre Melville is a master of precision and control. Every moment in this film, every scene, is utterly essential. Nothing is out of place, not a single moment wasted. Sound is minimized, movements are precise, and bullets move fast.
Melville makes films about men of action, and only action. They don’t need words, they don’t need facial expressions. Alain Delon does more with a flick of his wrist than most actors can do in a giant monologue.
Taking four men from four corners of the law – the man on the run, the man just out of the law’s grasp, the man who rejected the law, and the law itself – Melville explores the sharp angles of masculinity through the lens of a nail-biting heist movie. ‘Le Circle Rouge’ is all about that mythic fantasy of men – the instant camaraderie that comes from shared violence, the lone hero with nothing to lose, the old man needing only his own respect – and the way that all of these things are simply an honorable fantasy.
But in the moment, none of that matters, because I’m stuck biting my nails in the nearly silent, 30 minute heist that closes the climax. Because I’m trying to put every single moving piece together (this is basically ‘Chekhov’s Gun: The Movie’). Because I’m in awe of a man ripping a telephone wire off the wall. Because if I look away, even for a second, I lose a little bit of the cool that this movie imparts onto me.