Thursday, July 10, 2008


Rififi (Jules Dassin, 1955) [9]

Rififi has been called the template for all other heist films that have come after it and for good reason. There are few scenes as memorable in film as the jewel heist scene in this film, taking up about a quarter of the film and with absolutely no dialogue. It's completely impressive and expertly done but it isn't the only reason this is a great film. All the elements of this film have come to define characteristics of the heist noir, from the characters to the eventual demise of what appeared to be a perfect plan. Tony (played with the right amount of stoic reserve by Jean Servais) has just recently been released from prison and is looking for his girlfriend on the outside. After finding out she has hooked up with shady gangster characters, Tony gets a group together for one last big score. It's a motley assortment of hoods and safe crackers that has become commonplace in film of its type today. It's a testament to Rififi that these type of characters have become that iconic. They pull off the robbery only to have one of the group succumb to the charms of a woman and let everything out into the open. The gangsters get wind and confront Tony to hand over the jewels. Once again, everything here plot wise has been done before but at the time, it was something new and unique. These elements, when done right, always create a great noir storyline filled with suspense. The ending gets a little bit bogged down in familial melodrama but it's not enough to dull the rest of the film. Dassin handles the material deftly. While the heist sequence is the showcase, there are many other directorial touches that are quite nice. Dassin has always had a way of utilizing his settings to maximum effect, whether it be London in Night and the City or New York in The Naked City. He treats Paris the same way here, paying particular attention to the neighborhoods of the action and making them feel like a character on its own. The sequence at the end, where Tony is racing against his ultimate demise is fantastic filmmaking, the camera racing through the streets of Paris. It's a great technical achievement but there's so much more to it. Dassin gives what could have been a cold, calculating noir some real life, an appreciation for characters and setting, and creating a lasting thriller.

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