Le Samourai Jean-Pierre Melville

Only lazy critics praise movies for "defining cool" (as does Criterion's keep-case), but I'm hard-pressed to come up with an alternate blurb for Jean-Pierre Melville's 1967 thriller. "Ice-cold angel" Alain Delon stars as the eponymous criminal, a lone-wolf hit man who botches a murder/getaway and finds himself on the receiving end of his own kind of attentions. Despite having a phoney alibi, he's targeted by his boss; despite having been witnessed by a black pianist (Cathy Rosier), he's in no danger of being fingered. Thus Melville deploys endless formalities, blocking strategies, costume decisions and design elements to give us a portrait of the killer as a dead soul, which is alternately thematically uninteresting and fabulously gripping to watch. You can see the genesis of Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Jarmusch's Ghost Dog and every Tarantino movie ever made in its austere posing and macho masochism. There's the psychotic alienation of the first, the general plotting of the second and the attention to tailoring of the last, who admitted to raiding the director for his spare sartorial elegance and his likening of the gangster's suit to a "suit of armour." That sense of impenetrability is a definite drawback to giving it credit beyond genre theatrics, but somehow it registers as more than just one more French crime flick: Melville is clearly in thrall to the trappings of his ecstatic downer, and his barely-restrained enthusiasm lifts the film miles out of the merely routine. It's a terrific movie and worthy of its director's cult. Extras include effusive video interviews with scholars Rui Noguiera and Ginette Vincendeau, archival interviews with Melville, Delon and other cast members, a 29-page booklet with praise from critic David Thomson, worship from John Woo and an interview with Melville himself, and the trailer. (Criterion/Paradox)