When the police inspector says that he never thinks, we know he is always thinking and when hit man Jef Costello [Alain Delon] says he never loses we know he’s already lost everything. This film is a study in cool; the smooth control that so many of us strive for, and which often transfers awkwardly on film, comes across here as natural and essential.
There is no solitude greater than the samurai’s, unless perhaps it be that of a tiger in the jungle.
The story follows a perfectionist free-agent hitman, Costello, who religiously adheres to a strict code of duty. He lives in a Spartan apartment whose interior contains a neatly arranged line of mineral water bottles, cigarettes on a bookcase, as well as a little bird in a grey cage in the middle of the room. He is taciturn and goes about his tasks like clockwork. The film opens with a fairly long take of the protagonist lying await on his bed, smoking, during when the following text appears on-screen, attributed to an ancient samurai writing entitled The Book of Bushido.
What is a samurai? When he wears a fedora as crisp as glass and a pale trench coat that could have been sculpted by Brancusi? He is doomed. He is an icon out of his time. He is a hired killer, yet he is a last emblem of honor in a shabby world of compromise. He is a man who believes in tiny adjustments to the perfect shadow cast by the brim of his hat, who exults in the flatness with which he can utter a line, and who aspires to the last lovely funeral of brushes on a drummer’s cymbal. His essence is in timing, gesture, and glance.
Hong Kong director John Woo’s 1989 film, The Killer, was heavily influenced by Le Samouraï’s plot, the bar’s female pianist being replaced by a singer. Chow Yun-fat’s character Jeffrey Chow (international character name for Ah Jong) was obviously inspired by Alain Delon’s Jef. The inspiration, or homage, is confirmed by the similarity in the character names. Woo acknowledged his influences by writing a short essay on Le Samouraï and Melville’s techniques for the film’s Criterion Collection DVD release.
|Jef Costello||Alain Delon|
|Jane Lagrange||Nathalie Delon|
|Valérie, the pianist||Cathy Rosier|
|Man in the passageway||Jacques Leroy|
|Screenplay||Jean-Pierre Melville and Joan McLeod|
|Producer||Raymond Borderie and Eugène Lépicier|
|Assistant director||Georges Pellegrin|
|Music||François de Roubaix|
|Production design||François de Lamothe|
|Editing||Monique Bonnot and Yo Maurette|
Wandering through a bleak Manhattan in the midst of its Christmas Eve rush like some hoodlum Holden Caulfield, Frankie Bono (Allen Baron) is positively saturated with hatred for everyone and everything around him. He was supposed to be concentrating on Troiano (Peter Clume), the mid-level mob boss with more ambition than brains who he’s been brought in from Cleveland to send to an early grave. But being back in New York, especially around Christmastime, ruins him with memory and he begins slowly losing the intense focus and passive hostility that brings him these high-paying assignments as a professional hitter. So with Troiano gone home to Long Island for the holiday, Frankie decides to clear his head by losing himself for as long as he can in the vast, indifferent throng, taking a walk around this hated city before it’s time to get back to work.
Michael Mann himself has stated that the general idea behind Collateral is the clashing of ideals behind the two main characters. Vincent is obsessed with improvisation, often mentioning his reverance for constant change and making things up as he goes along almost as an art form (also reflected by his love of jazz), and definitely as a way of life, whereas Max has been driving cabs for twelve years because he believes that everything he does must be meticulously planned, especially the Island Limos company he wishes to set up. This, of course, is merely one interpretation, but being the one of the director, it is most likely the one that was intended. Another interpretation implies improvisation as a way to live life. Vincent was at his best when improvising and Max was always restricted by his meticulous planning. In the final shootout, Vincent failed to adapt and fired straight ahead, hitting the doors separating him from Max. Max, on the other hand, moved to the side and fired chaotically through the windows, emptying his gun. Due to Vincent’s close proximity, Max was able to hit him in the abdomen with a lucky shot. Keeping in line with other events in the film, the victor of this confrontation was the one who was most able to adapt; Max.