Godson [1998]

Alain Delon is the coolest killer to hit the screen, a film noir loner for the modern era, in Jean-Pierre Melville's austere 1967 French crime classic. Delon's impassive hit man, Jef Costello, is the ultimate professional in an alienated world of glass and metal. On his latest contract, however, he lets a witness live--a charming jazz pianist, Valerie (Cathy Rosier), who neglects to identify him in the police lineup. When Costello survives an assassination attempt by his employers, he carefully plots his next moves as cops and criminals close in and he prepares for one last job. Melville meticulously details every move by Costello and the police in fascinating wordless sequences, from Costello's preparations for his first hit to the cops' exhaustive efforts to tail Jef as he lines up his last; and his measured pace creates an otherworldly ambiance, an uneasy calm on the verge of shattering. Costello remains a cipher, a zen killer whose façade begins to crack as the world seems to be collapsing in on him, exposing the wound-up psyche hidden behind his blank face. Melville rethinks film noir in modern terms, as an existential crime drama in soft, somber color and sleek images (courtesy of cinematographer extraordinaire Henri Decaë). Le Samouraï inspired two pseudo-remakes, Walter Hill's Driver and John Woo's Killer, but neither film comes close to the compelling austerity and meticulous detail of Melville's cult masterpiece. --Sean Axmaker

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