In the crime films of Jean-Pierre Melville, trust becomes a rare and costly commodity. Structured gangster hierarchies are moot if it means monetary advancement or vengeance, while honor amongst thieves evaporates on a whim, usually leading to a bullet in the back. But Le Doulos takes this motif and makes it personal, setting its sights on a small, tightly knit group of French hoods who at once seem both incredibly close and uncaring toward each other.
Melville founds his entire film on the judgement of one character’s role as a police informer, only to pull a rug from under the notion half-way through. It’s a startling shift, one that enables the fluid and dark Parisian locale to seem even more deadly and uncertain. Shadows and screens mask men with guns, but their intentions are never clear until it’s too late. In this sense, Melville beautifully crafts each scene to subvert expectation, uncovering a honorable thread hidden beneath the many twists and turns of the plot.
If Le Samurai explores the breakdown of classic codes in the modern age, and Army of Shadows dispels such codes in the face of massive evil, Le Doulos levels a brutal hammer at why such ideologies begin to crack in the first place, inevitably due to the miscommunications and misjudgments of the men dependent on them the most.