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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Rififi (1955)



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In France in 1955, director Jules Dassin got his first job after being blacklisted and made one of the first and best heist films of all time. Though ostensibly based on a weak novel, it owes more to American crime films such as John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle, which also follows a group of thieves through a robbery and the subsequent aftermath. But the characters in Rififi aren't as collected: there is great and deadly passion brimming under the service of their cool professionalism, and it is fascinating to see how the characters are both made and unmade by their inner demons.

Rififi, paradoxically, is so lean and mean, down and dirty in its execution of its heist, the film's centerpiece, that is practically operatic. For 28 minutes, not a word is spoken, nor a note of music played: all we hear are grunts, footsteps, chiseling, drilling, and shuffling as the heist unfolds. It is as gripping as any such scene in the movies and directly inspired most of them.

Amidst all the logistics and mechanical details the film documents with crystal clarity, this never distracts from the film's focus on the characters, which is why the tension continues to escalate even after the heist is over. The final sequence, deceptively simple and chillingly effective, will not be quickly forgotten.