This is a mostly excellent French crime film directed by one of the greats of the genre. I think it’s the story, more than the direction, that keeps the film from being among Melville’s absolute best.
The film gets off to a great start – it feels like ages before there is any music or dialogue. It’s probably only a minute or so, but it stands out even back then. It’s also crazy how much hand-held camera there is in the opening.
I basically love the direction of the individual parts of this movie – the camera, the lighting, the sound, the location shooting. I think the pacing of the various sequences is well done. I really like how the film was shot and put together, except for this one glaring issue.
As you might expect, the physical acting isn’t the best, but that’s true of every film from this era. And there were a few acting choices that I questioned in the moment, but again, that’s typical of the era (and most films).
But the real issue for me is that this film has too much plot. It’s based on a novel but I’m not sure the entire novel works as a movie. Now, I’m not sure this is a critical issue – I liked the individual parts of the film and I liked the style of the film a lot. But This story could just be the jailbreak leading to the heist. Instead, there is so much post heist stuff, and that feels superfluous to me. (I have not read the novel.)
But, I think given the era, and given the quality of the style of the film, I think this is a minor quibble. I still think this is one of the better crime films of the 1960s, even if the final act feels somewhat unnecessary.