If Quentin Tarantino were going to choose the one film from cinema history that he wished he’d done, I’d be willing to wager Rififi would be on his short list. This smart, funny, sexy, visceral caper film from director Jules Dassin hits every note that Tarantino (and countless others) strive for and does so with almost ruthless precision. I do not hesitate to call this one of the greatest crime dramas ever made.
Telling the tale of an outrageous jewel heist and it’s aftermath, the film revolves around the brutal, consumptive ex-con, Tony le Stephanois. Tony, portrayed with cold efficiency by Jean Servais, is out of prison after a five-year stint and is trying to put his life back together. He’s approached by two associates, Jo (Carl Möhner) and Mario (Robert Manuel) with the idea of robbing a jewelry store. At first he refuses, but, finding himself living in squalor and his old flame, Mado (Marie Sabouret), in the arms of a rival gangster, Tony soon accepts their offer. Joined by Italian safecracker Cesar (played with remarkable aplomb by Dassin, the film’s director) the quartet spring into action, moving with intense perfection through the planning and execution of the daring crime.
That crime and the events that follow are fascinating viewing. The brilliance of their plan, the clockwork precision with which they execute and the fragility of the plan once the human element comes into play make Rififi real edge of your seat stuff. I’ve seen a lot of movies in my time and very few of them grabbed me as completely as this one.
Most highly recommended.
This review originally appeared on DrunkenFist.com in September 2001.