After a shaky first heist, a group of thieves plan an even more elaborate and risky second heist.After a shaky first heist, a group of thieves plan an even more elaborate and risky second heist.After a shaky first heist, a group of thieves plan an even more elaborate and risky second heist.After a shaky first heist, a group of thieves plan an even more elaborate and risky second heist.After a shaky first heist, a group of thieves plan an even more elaborate and risky second heist.
Late one rainy afternoon, four men rob a bank in the French coastal town of St.-Jean-de-Monts, not without deadly complications. The lead crook, Simon (Richard Crenna), leads a double life as the owner of a French nightclub. One of his regulars is a quiet police inspector named Coleman (Alain Delon). In time, their lines of work will shake their friendship like nothing else, not even Coleman's affair with Simon's wife, Cathy (Catherine Deneuve).
"Un flic" (A Cop), also known as "Dirty Money," is a film about the dehumanizing nature of police work. Coleman is suave but conflicted, willing to slap around a suspect or even a suspected suspect but not so hardened as not to be conflicted about that.
"This job makes us skeptical," his deputy Morand (Paul Crauchet) notes as the pair leave a morgue.
"Especially about skepticism," Coleman replies.
Director Jean-Pierre Melville was a leading light of the New Wave movement, and his commitment to impressionistic pure cinema is on strong display right at the outset. We open on the sound of crashing waves, filling the screen with blue. The car with Simon and the other robbers moves slowly into position. With rain crashing around them on an empty street, three of the four men wordlessly get out in turn to take their positions in the bank.
A short but portentous scene is played out through their eyes. Simon's are committed but apprehensive. The old pro who joins him first, Marc Albouis (André Pousse), reads cool and empty. In the car, a former bank manager named Paul (Ricardo Cucciolla) hesitates while the driver, Louis (Michael Conrad) looks at him hard. You can see the fear in Paul's eyes as he reluctantly leaves the vehicle to play his part.
What is up with this scene? It features four French robbers, only one of whom is actually played by a Frenchman. Here, and in many other ways, Melville was clearly doing things his way, establishing meticulous realism in some scenes only to abandon it in others, most notably in a later train heist which features some fine suspense work but was clearly filmed with models.
The weakest element for me in this movie is not the Tyco episode itself, but how it is integrated into the rest of the film. We have little idea how the train heist is being done, or why it leads to the final act the way it does. Yet its aftermath proves central to everything, by which time Melville is giving us not riddles but koans.
Though employing real locations and real-time sequences, Melville doesn't seem nearly as interested in telling a solid crime story, with motives and meanings laid out. His film, like the dialogue sprinkled through it, remains elliptical all the way through.
"We're doomed victims, the prey of actual pros," is something a blackmailed homosexual tells Coleman, which serves as a kind of motif for the film. I don't think "Un flic" sells the idea as well as it thinks. If Coleman is a victim, it's of his own hard code.
But "Un flic" keeps you watching and makes you think. And while casting an American as the lead crook and another as his key partner seems a strange conceit, dubbed as they necessarily are, both Crenna and Conrad make it work, playing their parts with the same elegant drabness that underscores every scene. Crenna's Simon is one character you come to care about, if only a little. Delon may be a trifle too mopey, but makes for an enigmatic center.
As a crime story, it's pretty decent. As a cinematic tone poem, it's much better.
- Feb 22, 2017