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2 reviews, 7 user ratings


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Rififi
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by MP Bartley

"Uh-oh. I smell trouble..."
5 stars

That's what 'Rififi' translates as you see. And trouble is exactly what the protagonists get here. The heist movie has been enjoying something of a revival lately with everyone from Brad Pitt to Rachel Weisz, from Marlon Brando to George Clooney, from Charlize Theron to Bernie Mac coming over all light fingered in the last few years. And while it's easy enough to namecheck 'The Taking of Pelham 123' or 'The Killing' in the list of great heists that influence this new batch, there's just not enough credit paid to possibly the best of the lot. Could it be because it's French?

Paris, the mid 1950's. Tony (Jean Servais) is a hood that knows he's not long for this world. He's got a nasty dose of tubercolosis that's threatening to bring his lungs up at any minute, and he's steadily drowning in a sea of gambling debts. His best days of thieving are behind him, until his young protege Jo (Carl Mohner) gets in touch. Jo is a young father and needs some money pretty quickly to support his family. The money is on display in the window of a jewellers, in the form of necklaces. A pretty easy smash and snatch job that Jo wants Tony to aid him with, alongside his friend the fun loving Mario (Robert Manuel). Once Jo lights that little fire in his stomach again however, Tony has bigger plans to rob the extremely well protected safe inside the jewellers. How to do that when the slightest noise will trigger the alarm? Why call in premier safe cracker and womaniser Cesar (director Jules Dassin under an assumed name) of course. And all the better to do it under the nose of his old enemy Farrati (Claude Sylvain)...

For all the glamour, style and twisting intricacies that recent heist movies like 'Ocean's 11' or 'Confidence' have brought to us lately, there's always a slight feeling that a cheat has been pulled. Namely, that in this modern age, the computer and video have been the get-out clause of every heist-writing scriptwriter. Need to create street chaos in rush hour? No problem, just get a hacker to hack the system. Need to trick a casino owner into thinking his casino's being robbed? Again, no problem, just film a replica and then hack into his video system and filter it through. So for all the surprises that these situations throw up, there's always the sense that it's a bit too easy and lacks true ingenuity.

'Rififi' has none of those problems. A film noir in the truest sense of the word, this is a heist that has no convenient computer program to fall back on or remote controlled van to draw attention away. This is a heist that relies purely on the combination of brawn, brain and balls, a little bit of luck and a hell of a lot of silence. Because if there's one thing 'Rififi' is famous for, and that you should see it for, it's the incredible heist sequence. 30 minutes long and shot with no dialogue or music. Because the slightest sound will alert every gendarme around.

It's a fantastic piece of film-making that anyone has yet to better, Soderbergh included. A truly cunning piece of guile, the silence hooks you and draws you into the heist without you even realising it, until you've become as sweaty and as clammy as the thieves themselves. It's fascinating to watch a sequence like this to see just how a heist would be pulled off in those days. No Chinese acrobats in a box here, just the exceedingly clever use of a fire extinguisher, an umbrella and someone's broad shoulders.

But is this a case of a film which is rated because of one solitary sequence? Not at all, 'Rififi' is one of the darkest and grittiest thrillers you could find. The Paris here, is not the city of love and romance. This is a pessimistic, rain-drenched, gloomy city still recovering from the devastation of WW2. And through the dank streets, still reduced to rubble in some cases, wanders Tony who knows that time isn't on his side on his anymore. Servais exudes a cool menace that has only really been matched by Bogart in his pomp. And even then, Bogey never made any of his characters this dark. Tony has virtually no redeeming qualities, beating his cheating girlfriend with a belt and hardly cracks a smile throughout. Yet we're drawn to his every move and fascinated as to just what ticks beneath his stoic exterior. Mohner is a much more likeable protagonist, blending in superbly well with Servais while Dassin and Manuel add a slight touch of comic relief, but never over-balancing the film and always convincing as criminals (director Dassin is particularly effective in his role). The four form a gang that are vivid and crackle with realism, culminating with a moment of terrible honesty between two of them as their plan falls down around their ears.

Dassin also brings a bleak, hugely cynical edge to the film. No surprise that there is no room for sentiment or honour among thieves here, as Dassin was someone who was betrayed and blacklisted during the McCarthy era. So what does this exiled American do? Goes out and makes one of the finest crime thrillers ever, that's what.

It's a small wonder then, that Dassin paints loyalty as something that can only hold out under torture for so long, and once an oath is broken there's no going back for anyone. So when trouble does get unleashed as Farrati (a great villain and performance by Sylvain) realises just what's happened, it's trouble with a capital T. It's shocking to see a 50's film that has junkies for villains, who are set loose on the 'heroes' with straight razors. But this is how black and bleak 'Rififi' is. Even the final shoot-out lacks typical genre thrills, and is just slammed home with sobering honesty and violent truthfulness. This isn't an exercise in style however, like 'Breathless' which would follow around ten years later. This is a crime thriller that has no pretensions other than to thrill. In the toughest way possible.

It's pretty common knowledge that Tarantino liberally based 'Reservoir Dogs' on Ringo Lam's 'City On Fire'. But if you want to see something that's just as tough, just as nasty and just as remorselessly thrilling (but without the blood and bad language) then go catch 'Rififi'. If Soderbergh's 'Ocean's 11' was essentially some very cool boys playing with toys, then 'Rififi' is the black stuff for the men in the house.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11783&reviewer=293
originally posted: 03/02/05 04:54:49
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User Comments

6/23/13 PAUL SHORTT BLEAK BUT BRILLIANT CRIME DRAMA 5 stars
5/19/11 millersxing crackling intensity of the criminal underground all the way to a satisfying conclusion 5 stars
11/28/09 futurestar the essential french film noir. Dassin bust a cap on your butt for this one. 5 stars
4/15/06 Richard Schmitz Excellent noir caper flick! 5 stars
10/14/05 Agent Sands Undoubtedly one of the greatest heists ever put on screen. 5 stars
9/13/05 King Richard Ocean's Eleven na, Rififi yea! 5 stars
4/07/05 Roderick Cromar Every film-lover must see this film. Spellbinding. 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  05-Jun-1956
  DVD: 24-Apr-2001

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