08 October 2010
It's funny that I've seen Le Samourai so many times and yet this was the first time I'd finally sat and watched more than half an hour of this. They're both such steady-handed procedurals, telling almost matter-of-fact stories about cops and robbers chasing each other. Only where Le Samourai was about balancing a smart cop versus a smart crook, Le Cercle Rouge feels more novelistic, sprawling. It's not that it's got a huge cast or anything, but everybody feels like they've got their own stories and their own trajectories here.
The big set-piece heist is fun, more for its tension than its ingenuity at this point. I wanted more conflict between the robbers, particularly Corey and Vogel, who barely knew each other but became instantly best friends at barely the slightest push. I appreciate a good honor-among-thieves story, but moments when a little mistrust would have suited the story were artfully sidestepped without a thought, it seemed. Especially considering how little each man knew about the other, it didn't quite ring true for me, though I get why it had to be for the narrative.
The theme that everybody is a little bit crook was a little overstated for my taste, though I did enjoy that the cops had to pretend to be crooks at the end to catch them, and that two "good guys" (the prison guard, Jansen the sharpshooter) were more like honorable "bad guys," and how noble the criminals seemed, or remorseful of being cornered into snitching. Like the cops are the ones forcing the crooks to betray each other, the cops are the ones who spread corruption while the crooks are constantly struggling against it, trying to stay honorable. That was all strong, but the explicit speeches on the subject from the chief of police never worked for me.
This felt like Le Samourai crossed with a Russian novel, in a good way. Still, I think I actually prefer the stripped down, spartan storytelling of Samourai more. But the story here is rich, so maybe that'll change on future viewings.