CLASSIC FILM SCENES #9 – RIFIFI (1955) – THE SILENT HEIST
Directed by: Jules Dassin
Produced by: Henri Berard, Pierre Cabaud, Rene Bezard
Written by: August Le Breton, Jules Dassin, Rene Bezard
Cast: Jean Servais, Robert Hossein, Magali Noel, Janine Darcey, Pierre Grasset, Marcel Lupovici, Robert Manuel etc.
Cinematography: Philippe Agostini
I was reminded of this classic low budget crime film recently while watching the brilliant 1980s set spy drama, The Americans. In it, Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) is once again undercover manipulating a source, who happens to be a film geek. There she “bumps” into said source while watching Rififi (1955).
If you haven’t seen Rififi (1955), it’s a genuinely brilliant example of the heist movie. Directed by Jules Dassin, the standout sequence in the silent heist in the middle of the film. Lasting around 30 minutes there is NO dialogue and NO music. It is pure cinema of the highest quality and absolutely absorbing. We may not vindicate the actions of these criminals, but we are dragged into the cleverness of their crime.
Shot for what was a pretty low budget of $200,000, it features a cast of mostly unknowns or actors whose career, like the characters they play, was in decline. However, due to the sublime direction, tricky plot and stylish photography, Rififi, is a great example of ideas and ingenuity outweighing budgetary constraints.
Rififiwas a critical and commercial success in France and other countries. However, it was banned too in some countries because the governments were afraid the robbery would be copied by actual criminals. Moreover, the film and the silent heist legacy live on. Brian DePalma’s film Mission Impossible (1996) clearly riffed on the set-piece with the elaborate Langley heist sequence. Interestingly, Keri Russell herself would appear in Mission Impossible III (2006); as an American agent this time.
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE BINGO incorporating: FALLOUT (2018) MOVIE REVIEW
I have found it’s difficult to find an original angle when reviewing certain films i.e. franchise movies or sequels. Indeed, unless they are absolutely brilliant I tend not to review them. Therefore, I had no major intention of writing about the new Tom Cruise produced Mission Impossible release, as these films, despite their technical movie-making brilliance, follow a very strict and safe formula. I mean what can I really add critically other than say I enjoyed it or I didn’t. However, it really is such a fantastic blockbuster movie I accepted an impossible mission, of sorts, to create something interesting while reviewing it.
So, here we go: Mission Impossible BINGO! It’s both recognition of the formula but also praise for the latest instalment which had me on the edge of my seat, heart in my mouth and biting my nails throughout. In the context of story it’s very generic but in terms of action, thrills and stunts it gets a Mark of 9 out of 11!
McQUARRIE directs Fallout which is essentially a direct sequel to Rogue Nation. We know his track record as a writer but he’s now proving himself a fantastic director too. I enjoyed Rogue Nation but Fallout raises the stakes with a witty, double-crossing, high octane and explosive movie, which actually improves the clichés of the formula in wonderful fashion.
INGENIOUS double-crossing is at the heart of the original Mission: Impossible television series and the film franchise. This is done through identification theft, impersonation, lies, deceit, scene-shifting, fake walls, and the famous face and voice changing technology.
STUNNING locations feature throughout the franchise. Changing the scenery is a means of tricking us into thinking we haven’t somehow seen this car-chase, foot chase or air chase before. Yet, what Mission: Impossible does brilliantly is take us into existing locations like the CIA Langley Headquarters, The Vatican City and even the Kremlin.
STUNTS and extravagant set-pieces dominate the whole of this franchise. From the original 1996 film’s wire-from-the-ceiling-hanging set-piece downloading a CIA encrypted agent list to the current Fall Out nuke-ticking-time-bomb denouement, Tom Cruise’ has committed some of the most breath-taking and technically brilliant action stunts ever.
ICONIC soundtrack composed by Lalo Schifrin has been often imitated but never a bettered. Those simple but effective notes fire up and immediately you know the action is about to start.
OPPOSING government agents are rife in the original show and film series, as inspired by the devious nature of the East v West “Cold War” from the 1950s onwards. In M: I you’ve got good agents, rogue agents, double agents, triple agents and ghost agents pretending to be good, bad and all of the above.
NEFARIOUS villains, like the Bond films, are necessary to precipitate some evil doings and kick off the plot. My personal favourite was Philip Seymour Hoffman in M:I 3 – as he really was evil. Solomon Lane as played by Sean Harris is cool too and is given some great speeches. His plan to blow up the world isn’t the most original but he has a blast trying it.
IMPOSSIBLE missions are at the heart of the film franchise. I mean the characters are mainly paper thin and the narratives are mainly empty so the gadgets and all manner of ticking time bombs, impenetrable garrisons, bad guys shooting and blowing stuff up; plus the covert interrogations and switcheroos provide the substance to the cinema experience.
MACGUFFIN-LED plots are not the strength of the franchise and on occasions the narratives a threadbare with Ethan chasing something called a “rabbit foot” or stolen nuke heads being the target. But who cares as long as we get to see things blow up.
PLAYFUL humour and one-liners dominate the scripts as a means to punctuate the action. The first three arguably had less gags but with Simon Pegg joining the cast in M:I 4 the joke quota increased and it settled into the a more humour-led vein. Personally, I prefer the serious espionage stuff, but the gags punch up the entertainment value nonetheless.
OUTSTANDING casting always brings a raft of class to these movies. Indeed, despite the style-over-substance nature of the narratives casting heavyweight actors such as: Jon Voight, Vanessa Redgrave, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris, Jean Reno, Ving Rhames, Billy Crudup, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Ferguson and many more raise the quality of the productions no doubt.
SUBTERFUGE and double-crosses are a major part of the plots. Often we never quite know whose side certain characters are on at any one time. In Rogue Nation and Fallout the troubled spy Ilsa Faust is simultaneously batting for three teams in order to keep herself alive. Such devilish plotting keeps the stories bouncing along, which is why they are never dull.
SPECIAL effects are a major part of M:I, however, what is incredible to that Tom Cruise will strive to make the stunts as real as possible by actually doing them himself. The opening of Rogue Nation and the end of Fallout are absolutely stupendous feats of daring which I would never contemplate. Similarly, bungee jumps, rock-climbing, free-jumping and many other effects-free actions give a very realistic feeling to proceedings.
INCREDIBLY talented directors who have worked on the franchise include: Brian DePalma, Brad Bird, John Woo, Christopher McQuarrie and JJ Abrams bringing their own inimitable styles to the various films and while Woo’s is pretty weak the franchise abides as each film has its own identity, look and feel.
BIG budgets are required to drive the Mission: Impossible film behemoth and while they continue to make the studio billions of revenue long will they continue. The first film cost a whopping $80 million dollars while the Fallout cost a mere $178 million. Although, given Fallout absolutely rocks it’s already made that back and much more besides.
LEAPING, running, driving, diving, swimming, crashing, disguising, fighting, flying, biking, parachuting, moving – you name it the IMF do it at incredible speeds and heights!
ETHAN HUNT as presented by Tom Cruise is a righteous dude fighting the good fight against the evil wrongdoers in the world. His commitment to the cause is unwavering and in defending the innocent against the corrupt goverments, villains and agents of evil. We all root for him as an aspirational action man of the people.
On top of the Netflix and documentary purge I watched quite a few films this month. Thus, here for your consideration, are some little reviews with marks out of eleven!
A MOST WANTED MAN (2014) – NETFLIX
One of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final films and a pretty decent espionage thriller set in Germany. Despite an excellent cast and decent atmosphere I didn’t care much for the characters and it fizzled out for me by the end. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK (2014) – BLU RAY
This is a very moving, filmic scrapbook documentary about an absolute musical legend who alas suffered both from mental and physical pain hence why he took his own life. Not sure if it was deliberate but toward the end his Mother and Wife were lit in a very similar way and resembled each other. While it was kind of objective allowing the sounds, videos, photos, recordings, interviews, cuttings and text to tell the story there a subconscious attempt by the director to link these two individuals. I loved the animated stuff which visualized the monologues Cobain recorded during his short life. I highly recommended this to fans of the troubled rock-poet and of course his amazing music. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
CREEP (2014) – NETFLIX
Not the British horror film directed by Christopher Smith ten or so years ago but a found footage film about a videographer who answers an advert to film a diary of weirdo played by the disarmingly dangerous Mark Duplass. I hated this at the start but it grew on me and the subtle horror was very well done and the ending is great. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
ENEMY (2014) – SKY
Doppelganger thriller Enemy is an enigmatic and weird treat full of fantastical images and brooding fear; featuring the ever brilliant Jake Gyllenhaal playing dual roles. His struggling actor and anxious teacher meet by chance and what follows is a mysterious game of cat and mouse. Both startling and unsettling from formidable genre director Denis Villeneuve. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
HECTOR AND THE SEARCH FOR HAPPINESS (2014) – NETFLIX
This is one of the worst-middle-class-first-world-problems-monstrosities-of-a-film I have ever seen. I like Simon Pegg but I switched this film off forty-five minutes in. Hector isn’t happy? No one’s happy, Hector! Happiness is an illusion, Hector! Do you have your health, Hector? Your girlfriend is Rosamund Pike, Hector? You have a home and food on the table, Hector? Count your blessings, Hector and piss off!! (Mark: 0 out of 11)
HYENA (2014) – NETFLIX
This is a sturdy and compelling British crime drama with a fantastic lead performance from Peter Ferdinando as a bent copper trying, yet failing, to stay ahead of the dangerous games he’s playing. It’s a brutal and nasty film; very reminiscent in style of Nicolas Winding Refn or Alan Clarke and is mostly gripping but slightly overlong. If you like your drama meaty, earthy and realistic then this is a movie for you. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
COCO CHANEL & IGOR STRAVINSKY (2009)
This was a sumptuous and stylish film with one of my favourite actors Mads Mikkelsen portraying composer Igor Stravinsky. I have to admit that I found it pretty boring though in terms of the drama and while it looked great I just did not care about the lives of rich and spoilt artists in 1920s France. (Mark: 5.5 out of 11)
THE MAN FROM UNCLE (2015) – CINEMA
Amidst the spy genre pastiche, muscular bromance and triple crosses there’s some cinematic gold enjoyment to be had in watching The Man From Uncle. Guy Ritchie is a very reliable genre director and during some of the set-pieces I actually sensed there’s a proper auteur trying to get out. While I liked Skyfall (2012) and look forward to Spectre (2015) this was reminiscent of the old Bond films from the 1960s as it makes espionage sexy again. Overall, this is an ultra-stylish spy eye candy with a cracking soundtrack. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
MAN WITH A MOVIE CAMERA (1920) – BFI CINEMA
Classic formalist documentary from Dziga Vertov is both an extravagant experiment in montage-making plus an intriguing look back at Soviet life post-Revolution. Dismissed as folly at the time of release it is now considered a masterwork, not only as a documentary, but as a film itself. It is humbling and intriguing viewing and makes you realise that the Soviet life is no different to ours as we witness births, marriages, deaths, work, rest and play. It’s a genuine historical and filmic masterpiece. (Mark: 10 out of 11)
MAZE RUNNER (2014) – SKY
This is a surprisingly entertaining addition to the recent raft of teenage-action-hero-in-dystopic-future-world-peril-films. I enjoyed the existential mystery set up in the premise as our hero Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is thrown into a Lord of The Flies land inhabited only by young men, trapped by a massive maze. Plot-wise and action it’s very strong, however, the theme of humanity-accepting-one’s-fate-versus-escaping-while-testing-authority gave the story a richness making it very watchable indeed. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION (2015) – CINEMA
M: I5 was a blast! Tom Cruise and the IMF team up to their usual breathtaking pyrotechnics! Good to see Sean Harris get a prominent role as he’s a formidable character actor. Phillip Seymour Hoffman – from M:I3 – is easily the best baddie though. I just wish the trailers wouldn’t show virtually ALL the stunts especially HOW Tom did the “hang to the plane” thing. I don’t watch these films for the story – it’s the action. Please leave some for the film next time trailer people! Rebecca Ferguson kicks serious ass and the scene at the Opera is pure Bond and pure cinema of the highest quality. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
NO ONE LIVES (2014) – SKY
A stylish, yet empty exploitation serial-killer flick which would go straight to video if Blockbusters had any stores left. Luke Evans is a handsome actor looking for a decent role since finishing Fast and Furious 6 and The Hobbit trilogy but this isn’t it. The film itself is saved by some extravagant violence and bloodletting but as a story it’s hollow like (Mark: 3 out of 11)
SOUTHPAW (2015) – CINEMA
If you like films about boxing then you’ll love Southpaw: a brutal and quality action-melodrama with another fine performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. The story is very simplistic and structured around a riches-to-rags-to-redemption narrative but I found the soap operatics and bombastic direction a real adrenaline-pumped belt to the senses. Gyllenhaal is ripped, torn and lean like a prime piece of beef as life deals him body blow after blow. Can his on-the-ropes boxer bounce and make a come-back? While somewhat predictable I found Antoine Fuqua’s punchy movie a real knockout! (Mark: 8 out of 11)
STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (2015) – CINEMA
This is a tremendous biopic of seminal hip-hop legends NWA, who came to the fore of world music in the late 1980s. Performances and direction are excellent as Ice Cube, Dr Dre, Eazy-E, DJ Yella and MC Wren – AKA NWA – exploded onto the scene like a bomb and delivered anger, power and beats that propelled them straight out of Compton and into the charts! They are a perfect example of sociological, political and cultural forces converging to create a superlative brand and the film perfectly captures the age, the music, the look and the camaraderie of being the group. The film illuminates the spirit of the hip-hop scene and the problems the group had with the law while dramatically portraying the bitter in-fighting over royalties which split the band apart. Goes without saying the soundtrack is brilliant too! (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
THEY CAME TOGETHER (2014) – NETFLIX
This starred two of my favourite comedic actors in Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler and is a broad parody of romantic comedies with a very high joke-rate. He stars as a corporate confectionary executive and tries to take over her small independent sweet-hearted business and at first they hate each other but then… Yes, they have sex! Pitched somewhere between Naked Gun and Anchorman this is very, very silly but also an absolutely hilarious comedy. Short, sweet, ridiculous and as infectious as diabetes. Is diabetes infectious – oh, who cares! Just watch the movie! (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
I have a confession to make. I am a love cheat. I love the cinema but, of late, I have been cheating on it with Television. I couldn’t help myself. TV used to be cinema’s bastard child but now it’s all grown up and wow, has it matured! Gone are the past memories of four channels with some programmes of high quality yet limited choice. Now we have four thousand channels to choose from and while much of it is light bum-fluffery there has been some great product, notably dramas such as: Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, 24, The Sopranos, Hannibal, Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, The Fall, Daredevil, Peaky Blinders, Doctor Who, True Detective, Band of Brothers and many more I have forgotten or just haven’t had time to watch. But never fear cinema I still love you.
The moment I purchase a cinema ticket, in fact even before I leave the front door knowing I am about to leave for the cinema I get the charge, the buzz and the anticipation of getting a movie fix. Because for me going to the cinema does what television cannot: it takes me out of my home. It takes me off the street. It takes me out of THIS world. It takes me to a dark secluded spot sat staring at a gigantic silver screen waiting for the moment the projectionist feeds celluloid through light, well digital files though a computer and then a lens or something; anyway, you get the picture. Then the movie starts and for the next few hours I’m transported to another world featuring: places, times, characters, sounds, images, events etc. that are beyond my imagination. And when the movie ends there’s a rush of excitement, a reaction to the cinematic assault on the senses. But, alas, the fix cannot last. Reality is soon knocking on my door.
Cinema offers a wide-screen visual delight. Indeed, when television first came into people’s homes film producers were frightened that this new-fangled ‘radio with pictures’ would steal away audiences so Hollywood made bigger, though not necessarily better, movies; epics such as: The Robe (1953), The TenCommandments (1956), Ben Hur (1959) and Cleopatra (1963). Obviously, the epics just keep coming notably in the raft of summer blockbusters which infest the screen. This year has been no different with films such as: Ant-Man (2015), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), Jurassic World (2015), Fast and Furious 7 (2015), Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation etc. delivering with spectacular monsters, crashes and stunts.
While such blockbusters may lack depth of character than many TV dramas it’s the spectacle I crave at the cinema. That moment where you go giddy because you haven’t breathed for a minute until all the air rushes from your mouth as one simultaneously pushes your jaw back shut. Good old TV cannot do this though. The television set traditionally occupies a foremost place in the ‘living room’; it’s small compared to the cinema screen and has kind of replaced the hearth that used to provide heat and light. The TV glows and is reminiscent of the old-fashioned campsite fire where families or scouts swap ghost stories while capturing the heat from the flames.
Cinema offer a short, sharp hit compared to TV. Often, a longer running drama series on TV will require a six, ten, thirteen or even longer week commitment. Of course, the introduction of streaming or binge-watching has hacked this idea down to size but movies are still economical and quicker-paced, affording little in the way of fat to the storytelling. Cinema characteristically adopts a tight narrative organised around a particular problem or disruption that is resolved at the denouement where some TV shows, while resolving some plots, will hook us in with shocks to keep us watching and sometimes this can be frustrating as the two-hour or so closure and resolution that cinema offers is very satisfying to me. One of my favourite films Jaws (1975) is a great case in point. Here a shark terrorizes a local community in the United States and the cause-effect narrative takes us through a series of conflicts involving: shark attacks, pursuit of the shark and ultimately the killing of the shark. Thus, film is able to offer a satisfying conclusion to a thrilling story. Ultimately, film offers catharsis and the endings of films such as: Fight Club (1999), Chinatown (1974), The Godfather (1970) and Planet of the Apes (1968) all build to unforgettable climaxes.
Yet, the major concern I have with committing to a new TV drama is the length of time required to get in AND out of the story. I think long and hard about such a commitment but with film one knows it’s not going to be as such. Indeed, one of the reasons I have not watched Mad Men yet is the amount of seasons ahead of me. I’ve been married and I know how much hard work it is. I just don’t feel ready to commit just yet to Don Draper and his “crew”. Plus, with TV shows designed with advertisers in mind adverts can get on the nerves when in the midst of the narrative although the set-top box and Netflix revolution has put that issue aside as has the DVD box-set. Despite this though Cinema is still the preferred mode of voyeuristic, narcissistic and vicarious pleasure though as you sit in a comfy seat eating over-priced confectionery and have a non-stop viewing experience with all adverts before the main presentation. Of course, most films do have multiple examples of product placement, especially Tom “Dorian Gray” Cruise’s M:I franchise but that’s subliminally secreted within the narrative and action and thus not an issue for me. Overall, TV’s episodic form lends itself perfectly to advertisers yet once the movie has started it remains a satisfying whole and is never interrupted with a word from the sponsor.
While I admit that TV stories are gaining more and more complexity notably in regard to depth of characterisation and emotional power they are intrinsically “talking heads” and dialogue lead. TV is still anchored by a lack of screen-size and scope. Rarely does the action on a TV show reach the heights of the cinema although in recent times 24 and Daredevil have featured some spectacular set-pieces and fight scenes. Moreover, Hannibal has to be the most exquisitely edited TV show I have ever seen. But is it better than the cinema? Boardwalk Empire showed flashes of narrative genius with its parallel storytelling from past and present but does it reach the stunning narrative expertise of say Memento (2000);the story of Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) – a man with no short-term memory – which presents the complex plot BACKWARDS! Moreover cinema, unlike TV, is also able to breach huge temporal and spatial differences through editing. Perhaps the most famous single cut in cinema history appears in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Opening with the “Dawn of man”, apelike hominids learn how to use tools. As the ape/man smashes down the bone he then launches it into the air. One cut later and the audience are thrown thousands of years into the future and thousands of miles into space. Such vision demonstrates the power of cinema and takes the breath away.
The arch edict screenwriters should follow when writing for the screen is one should: “Show don’t tell.” Dialogue is also a vital tool in the screenwriter’s box as filmmaker’s such as Quentin Tarantino and The Coen Brothers have demonstrated in movies such as: Reservoir Dogs (1991), Pulp Fiction (1994), The Big Lebowski (1997) and Fargo (1996). Nonetheless they have married quirky, stylish dialogue with strong visual flair. Indeed, the screenwriter must be aware that cinema represents a marriage of sound and vision. While TV traditionally favours dialogue to further the story and action, cinema uses a whole host of devices to tell the story including: cuts, dissolves, wipes, flash-cuts, voice-over, overlapping dialogue, close-ups, point-of-view shots, shot-reverse-shot, Steadicam shots, crane shots, moving shots, dolly shots, wide-screen panoramic views, black-and-white film, colour film, and use of diegetic and non-diegetic music. Indeed, for me there is nothing more cinematic than great music being placed over fantastic images. Filmmakers such as Tarantino, the Coens, and Martin Scorcese are all aware of this. Tarantino uses non-diegetic music expertly in the infamous ear-slicing scene in Reservoir Dogs (1991).
And so I conclude with a mild apology to cinema. I have been seeing a lot of Television these days I DO STILL LOVE YOU! I love your form, style and content and the way they combine to move me emotionally and physically in a way television cannot. Movies will always reach the parts Television cannot. Something magical occurs when watching a film. A whole new world develops before my very eyes; heroes and heroines are thrown into adventure and conflict with events changing their lives forever. Be it falling in love, falling out of love, fighting for their lives or the lives of the ones they love, struggling against the odds to achieve their greatest desires or, tragically failing at the last obstacle. That for me is cinema. It’s an escape from reality the moment one leaves the house. Saying goodbye to the box, not only knowing it will be there when one comes back home but also knowing that it will rarely change my life. While its heat may keep the living room warm at night it cannot compete with film. I have seen the light. Je t’aime cinema!