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Film / Le Samouraï

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"There is no greater solitude than that of the samurai, unless it is that of the tiger in the jungle... Perhaps..."

Le Samouraï, known in the US as The Godson or Cop Out (no, not that Cop Out), is a 1967 French crime thriller directed by Jean-Pierre Melville and starring Alain Delon. It follows a perfectionist hitman named Jef Costello as he sets up an alibi, performs a hit, and then tries to get away with it, all while staying true to his Bushido-like Code of Honor. He eventually finds himself on the run from both the police and his former employers.

Le Samourai is famous for being one of the first films to deal with the existential hero, and for deconstructing many of the tropes of the crime thriller and assassin genres.

This film includes examples of:

  • The Alibi: Before performing a hit, Jef Costello sets up an alibi: he asks his mistress to pretend that he has spent the night with her. Just after the hit, he goes to his mistress's flat to bump into her boyfriend as he comes back home. Then he goes to an underground gambling parlour.
  • Anti-Hero: Jef Costello is very much a Type IV. He is a hitman who doesn't really do any heroic deeds throughout the story though he doesn't hurt any innocents and does choose to protect his alibi rather than leave her to die.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: In a suit, tie, trenchcoat, white gloves, and perfectly positioned fedora at all times. Jef Costello cares as much about his appearance as he does about his alibi.
  • Batman Gambit: Jef plants himself outside his girlfriend's apartment when her other lover comes home before making his hit. Later, when the lover is brought in to identify Jef, he recognizes and fingers him, thinking he's nailing him for a crime, when in reality he's offering him an airtight alibi for the murder.
  • Blatant Lies: The opening quote is ostensibly from "the book of Bushido". In reality, it came from director Jean-Pierre Melville's imagination.
  • The Chanteuse: In this case, a nightclub pianist. She sees Jef leaving the scene of a kill.
  • Conspicuous Trenchcoat: Jef's choice of unsuspicious-looking clothes is a trenchcoat and fedora. It makes sense in the setting, but even if it didn't, Rule of Cool would turn this trope into something more like a Badass Longcoat situation. It's certainly very conspicuous, as a whole bunch of people spot him leaving the nightclub.
  • Contract on the Hitman: After he's briefly taken into custody by the police (despite having what appears to be an airtight alibi), Jef's employers decide they'd rather kill him than risk him implicating them.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Everything in Jef's shabby little apartment is gray—the floor, the walls, the sheets. Even the bird is gray! The opening scene looks like it's a black-and-white film, except for Jef's face providing a little Splash of Color. The nightclub where Jef kills a guy is also monochromatic, done up in all black and silver and glass. The police department where Jef is taken for a lineup is similarly monochromatic
  • Doomed Protagonist: Pretty much the whole idea behind the film and its take on the Crime genre.
  • Fedora of Asskicking: Costello's. It's also how he's identified by some of the witnesses.
  • Film Noir: Seen as a definitive example of neo-noir films for its style and pacing. Even though it's a crime movie, it has only three scenes involving guns.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Costello would rather die alone than kill the bystander who supported his alibi.
  • The Hero Dies: For a given value of "hero", Jef Costello takes a bullet for the nightclub singer, one of the bystanders that witnessed his killing spree.
  • Incest Subtext: Melville cast Nathalie Delon as Costello's first romantic interest because they looked more like siblings than lovers, and wanted that sort of awkwardness between them for the audience. It gets weird when you realize the two of them were husband and wife in real life, and not related at all.
  • Incredibly Obvious Bug: Subverted. When the Paris police sneak into assassin Jef Costello's apartment to plant a listening device, the one they initially choose is a huge black box with a big antenna and a red light. The officer puts it in the hiding place, scrutinizes it briefly, and then decides to go with a smaller model.
  • In Love with the Mark: Jef is implied to feel this way about the nightclub musician who supported his alibi (and she to him), but it might just be his code of honor.
  • Market-Based Title / Nonindicative Title: For its US release, Le Samourai was retitled The Godson in order to cash in on the gangster craze started by The Godfather.
  • Match Cut: From the head gangster pacing his office as he muses on the need to kill Costello to the head police detective doing the exact same thing as he muses on Costello's getaway.
  • Meaningful Name: The main character's (not French at all) name, "Jef Costello", is a reference to both Robert Mitchum's character in the Film Noir classic Out Of the Past and to famous American mobster Frank Costello.
  • Nerves of Steel: Jef is calm to the point of catalepsy, hardly ever reacting, not twitching a facial muscle when he has to kill a guy, or when someone is trying to kill him, or when he's locking eyes with the pianist who can send him to jail if she identifies him. That's why it's so effective in the one scene where he is rooting through his set of keys, trying to steal a car before the police dragnet finds him again, and he is visibly nervous.
  • The Oner: The opening shot of Jef on his couch, with a slow, jerky Vertigo Effect to go with it (Word of God says this is to emphasize Costello's lonliness and mental instability).
  • Police Are Useless: The police go to a lot of time and effort to plant a bug in Costello's apartment. But only bother to hide it behind a curtain.
  • Professional Killer: Partially averted. Jef is extremely skilled and certainly a Badass in a Nice Suit (see above), but barely speaks and lives in a crapsack two-room apartment with only a bird for company.
  • The Quiet One: Jef Costello barely speaks throughout the film and it takes about 10 minutes for him to utter a single line of dialogue.
  • The Remake: A loose remake of the 1942 American film noir This Gun for Hire starring Alan Ladd.
  • Rule of Three: A dramatic example. We see the massive ring of keys three times, twice from Costello and once from the police.
  • Signature Style: Costello puts on white gloves before every kill. This is a trademark of Jean-Pierre Melville.
  • Silence Is Golden:
    • The movie goes ten minutes before the first word of dialogue. The first three scenes—Jef leaves his apartment, Jef steals a car, Jef meets a fellow hoodlum who changes the plates and gives him a gun—take place in silence, and not a word is spoken until he meets Jane to arrange an alibi.
    • The entire scene where the cops break into Jef's apartment, set up a bug, and begin recording in a hotel across the street is also presented without a word of dialogue.
  • Skeleton Key: Costello carries a huge ring of keys that enables him to steal any Citroën DS. Tension is created in one scene as he tests one key after another in an ignition as two patrolling police officers walk down the sidewalk towards him; the car starts before they get close enough to realise he's stealing it.
  • Suicide by Cop: Seemingly Jef's plan in the end, as he goes back to the nightclub, goes right up to the piano player, points a gun at her, and is shot down by the cops—only for the detective in charge to take a look at Jef's gun and see that it isn't loaded. And we know he left it unloaded on purpose because the gun was loaded when he checked it before entering the nightclub.
  • Unnaturally Blue Lighting: Used to emphasize the cold nature of the characters and to invoke the feel of Film Noir. Director Melville said that his goal was to try to "make a black-and-white film in color".
  • Western Samurai: Jef Costello is a French mob hitman that follows the Bushido Code of Honour.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The overpass shooter who tried to kill Jef is still tied up in his apartment.