Saturday, 19 December 2009

The Police Informer

No 472 - Le Doulos
Director - Jean Pierre Melville

Before we begin it is important to talk about the title. The reason I think it is important is that it is the first thing that the film talks about. It should therefore be the first thing I talk about. To quote the pre-title disclaimer:
In slang "doulos" refers to a hat, but in the private language of police and underworld it refers to a man "putting it on", a police informer.

The film essentially covers a group of gangsters and 3 individual jobs they perform which are all interweaved (a jewel theft, a murder and a robbery). They get in increasing levels of trouble because within the group is a police informant, a snitch. What then follows is a quite painful hour and a bit of watching the main character, Faugel (who will never be as cool as the protagonists of Melville's later work Le Cercle Rouge), get further and further into trouble and getting more and more pissed off with the informant.
We are introduced to his crew and they're all a bit dodgy. Silien has repeated dealings with the police and is painted to be a completely cruel and immoral piece of work whilst Jean just comes off as a bit of an idiot, asking too many questions and having an annoying smug face. Either of them could be the informer but the film definitely wants you to think it is Silien, as he is continually showcased in scenes where he appears like a horrific bastard.

His finest moment being where he ties Faugel's girlfriend Therese to a radiator (I know I've said this before but 60's french chic is an EXCELLENT look for a lady), ties a belt around her neck, gags her and punches her in the face. What a superb bit of villainy. He is just so boo hissable and one of the few things in the beginning of the film that pep up the action.
You see, for most of this film I found it quite dull.
The set up is less interesting than the one other film I've seen by Melville, it seems to be solely based around Faugel planning a crime, failing and getting arrested. Throughout this period Silien wonders around asking questions.
Sure the way Silien asks questions changes - sometimes he is talking to the police, sometimes to barmen, sometimes he is beating Therese up as she is tied to radiators and sometimes he has sex with influential exes. However despite the range of methods, it doesn't mask that all he is doing is wandering around and asking questions. It doesn't make the film that exciting. However, thankfully all of that changes in the final act.

I would never claim to be an expect on Jean-Pierre Melville. I've only seen two of his films but I've started to see patterns. There are small patterns: the love of trenchcoats or the fact that the police stop running, take slow and very precise aim and shoot the fleeing perp. However both films have had a final act in which all the plot strands come together and everything twists and turns into a big messy final scene which is usually a Mexican Stand off. It is the kind of directorial decision that is also seen in other, more modern, gangster films. The works of Tarantino and Guy Richie spring to mind.
Once you've found out why Silien has been asking all those questions... everything becomes a bit more interesting.

The final act really ratchets up the excitement and the tension as we get loads of twists (which I won't reveal, after getting in trouble for Electra Glide in Blue), confusion, mixed signals, shoot outs, death, car chases and TWO 2CVs. I mean... you can't get much better than that, surely.

The film's ending also paints everything that has happened before in a different light and suddenly it isn't quite so boring. It is just a shame that the build up to that point feels so uninspired.

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