Tag Archives: gangster film

Classe tous risques

Classe tous risques
Classe tous risques

Format: Cinema

Release date: 13 September 2013

Distributor: BFI

Director: Claude Sautet

Writers: Claude Sautet, Pascal Jardin

Based on the novel by: José Giovanni

Cast: Lino Ventura, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Sandra Milo, Marcel Dalio

France 1960

110 mins

A train station in Italy. Two small children receive a furtive send off before boarding a train alone with their mother. Their father, a fugitive gangster, has decided that it’s time for the family to return home to France after ten years in hiding, but to finance the move, Abel Davos (Lino Ventura) needs to pull off one last job, a brazen theft in broad daylight in Milan. Of course, that theft only increases the unwanted attention from the police, and Davos’s flight to the border, and eventually to Paris, is a dramatic, dangerous and ultimately tragic grasp at freedom, which underpins Claude Sautet’s fantastic thriller about a once-powerful man now struggling for his survival.

Based on a novel by José Giovanni, written after the author’s release from jail, Classe tous risques (Consider all Risks) gets off to a dynamic start, with Davos’s getaway from Milan relayed in a terrific action sequence, involving cars, motorbikes and a boat landing on the French shore under the cover of night. But when the worst happens, Davos finds he must turn to his former partners-in-crime for help. His ‘friends’ in Paris now live more respectable lives, safe only because he took the fall for their misdeeds in the past, culminating in his exile. But now, years later, they are reluctant to pay their debts. Instead of becoming personally involved, they send Eric Starck, a young man-on-the-make (played by a terrific Jean-Paul Belmondo) to pick up Davos in the south of France and bring him back to Paris.

Davos, who should be more concerned with the welfare of his family, is quietly furious and turns to plotting his revenge, seeking payback for this latest betrayal – with the help of Eric, who goes above and beyond the call of duty to protect Davos and his children. From this point on, despite clear indications of the brutality that lurks below the gangster’s charismatic exterior, Sautet sets up a blend of moral ambiguities and dilemmas, making it almost impossible not to empathise with Davos – even if his actions can’t be condoned.

Classe tous risques is released in the UK as a BFI Dual Format (DVD/Blu-ray) edition on 24 February 2014.

Classe tous risques is a taut, original gangster film told with simplicity and a compelling directness, with bare-bones exposition and a neorealist touch. But there are also deeper, more thoughtful issues in play with Sautet’s no-punches-pulled exploration of the conflicts between loyalty and family, and the code of honour among thieves. The result is a tour de force, which is rounded out by a soundtrack by Georges Delerue and beautifully composed cinematography from Ghislain Cloquet. In one memorable shot, a woman that Davos and Eric encounter, having only just realised that she might be in the company of criminals, is caught between Eric in the background, while in the foreground, a telephone – a link to the cops – is separated from her by a pane of glass. Her moment of hesitation as she decides between right and wrong is exquisite.

It’s only a shame that Classe tous risques was utterly eclipsed on its original release by Belmondo’s other film, Breathless, coming out in the same year, and the ensuing excitement over the French New Wave. But the real mystery lies in why Sautet rarely returned to the underworld of gangsters and criminals during his career, choosing instead to focus on dramas set in the world of the bourgeoisie – films which, admittedly, brought him more success than this overlooked, but rich contribution to the genre.

Sarah Cronin

Watch the trailer:

Killing Them Softly

Killing Them Softly

Format: Cinema

Dates: 21 September 2012

Venues: UK wide

Distributor: Entertainment Film

Director: Andrew Dominik

Writer: Andrew Dominik

Based on the novel by: George V. Higgins

Cast: Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, Sam Shepard

USA 2012

97 mins

Andrew Dominik’s follow-up to his sublime meditative Western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007) is a return to the small-time criminal fraternity that he made his name with in his fantastic debut Chopper (2000). Brad Pitt plays professional mob enforcer Jackie Cogan, who gets called in when a mob-run poker game gets robbed. Suspicion immediately falls on the unlucky Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta), who has form in knocking off his own games, but Cogan knows someone else is responsible and sets about finding them.

With his elderly colleague (Sam Shephard) wasting away, Cogan is living in a world that he is increasingly at odds with. The mob he works for are a bunch of timorous second-guessers, not even appearing in the movie but working through the intermediary of an unnamed driver, played by the ever reliable Richard Jenkins. Likewise, an old acquaintance whom Cogan calls in to assist, Mickey from New York (James Gandolfini), is an ageing drunk and no longer seems up to the job.

Based on an old George V. Higgins novel, the film refuses to run along regular generic lines. The plot is by the by. We know whodunit right from the get-go, as does Cogan. There’s a slippery sense of inevitability as the various men trundle through the film towards their fate. Dominik seems far more interested in creating a real, believable small-scale criminal underworld. Cogan is a professional surrounded by incompetence and naivety, but he also has a code by which he abides and a philosophy as convincing as it is chilling. In fact, it is the expounding of this philosophy against Richard Jenkins’s objections that provides much of the entertainment. Working well with a director he obviously likes, Pitt gives another mature and nuanced performance, allowing much of the first half of the film to go by, listening to others, just an audience to a series of great performances from the ensemble cast, before staking his claim and taking it over. ‘Very few guys know me,’ he tells a guy in a bar, and Pitt manages to exude a cool (and cold) threat without posturing, a murderer with a heart of gold and an opinion about everything, who doesn’t like killing people but will do whatever it takes to get his money.

From a wider perspective, with its run-down litter-strewn streets and boarded-up shop fronts, the film places us in a world of creeping failure, a country in irredeemable decline, a country where even the criminal fraternity lack energy, imagination and balls.

Killing Them Softly is an explicit ‘No you fucking can’t’ to the bland optimism of Obama’s America. ‘America’s not a country, it’s a business,’ Cogan declares. And according to this film, it’s a failing one at that.

John Bleasdale

Kill List

Kill List

Format: Cinema

Release date: 2 September 2011

Distributor: Studiocanal

Director: Ben Wheatley

Writers: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley

Cast: Neil Maskell, Michael Smiley, MyAnna Buring, Emma Fryer

UK 2011

95 mins

Ben Wheatley’s second feature was one of the most eagerly awaited offerings at Film4 FrightFest on the August bank holiday weekend. Wheatley’s debut, Down Terrace, was a festival hit two years ago, and deservedly so. Tightly written, finely observed and darkly humorous, it mixed dysfunctional family drama with criminal elements in a refreshing take on the tired British gangster genre.

Kill List similarly combines gritty realism and crime film, but adds a sinister cult to the mix, not entirely wisely. It begins like a kitchen sink drama about the life of a work-shy hitman, Jay, who has blazing rows with his worried wife Shel and a son to provide for. Over a dinner party, his friend and partner Gal manages to convince him to go back to work. But as they go through their client’s kill list, Jay is shaken by what they discover about their targets and becomes increasingly psychotic, his violent behaviour fuelled by self-righteous moral indignation.

As in Down Terrace, the character study, the observation of family dynamics and male friendship, and the excellent dialogue are utterly compelling. But the introduction of the cult element seems unnecessary and unoriginal and does not quite blend with the rest of the story. It is never explained fully, and although mystery and ambiguity are entirely desirable in a film, it is not evocative enough to fire up the imagination. Despite this and an ending that feels tacked on, Kill List is thoroughly engaging for most of its running time and Ben Wheatley is clearly a talent to watch.

Virginie Sélavy

Watch the trailer:

Down Terrace

Down Terrace

Format: Cinema

Release date: 30 July 2010

Venues: ICA Cinema (London) and selected key cities

Distributor: Metrodome

Director: Ben Wheatley

Writer: Robin Hill, Ben Wheatley

Cast: Julia Deakin, Robert Hill, Robin Hill, Mark Kempner, Michael Smiley

UK 2009

89 mins

Bill and his son Karl are members of a seemingly normal family living in a terraced house within a nondescript suburb of Brighton. Following an acquittal from an unspecified court case, the two return home to the familiar staple of chores to be completed, tension between the family’s women to defuse and their own tempestuous relationship to address. Beneath this surface, however, lies a far more sinister and interesting truth; the members of this family are career criminals, and are now on a blood hunt for whoever grassed them up.

Welcome to Down Terrace, the feature debut from Ben Wheatley. Far from being merely an episode of The Sopranos directed by Mike Leigh as many reviews have suggested, the film is a fascinating look at the mechanics of a family, focusing on the little things that at once enthrall and irritate, exposing harboured truths and the ties that bind people together. Blazing arguments are abruptly ended by bursts of perfectly timed humour and assumptions about characters are turned on their head at the least predictable moments. Wheatley’s script, co-written with star Robin Hill, is a brilliantly original take on the familiar British crime genre, infusing each character with depth and compassion. We care deeply for each of these characters, which increases s the impact of their irrationally violent reactions towards others. A particular scene of pure visual humour resulting from a sudden action from Karl typifies this perfectly.

It comes as no surprise that Robert Hill (Bill) and Robin Hill (Karl) are real-life father and son, sharing a painfully realistic chemistry that’s as heart-wrenching as darkly amusing. An ex-hippie and regular drug user, Bill is prone to twisted philosophical musings that are highly enjoyable, and at times it’s difficult not to sympathise with the familial and professional weight on his shoulders. Karl is also blessed with some unfortunate situations to challenge his ever-shredded nerves, not least an ex-girlfriend who turns up at the door bearing his child. While plot devices such as this could possibly be viewed as contrived, they perfectly highlight the domestic pressures that bear on the family to the same extent as their illegal exploits.

Featuring a host of familiar faces from cult British comedy, such as Julia Deakin and Michael Smiley, combined with non-professional actors, the film is undoubtedly a lo-fi affair, though at no point is it hindered by its budgetary constraints. More so, the claustrophobic atmosphere is largely achieved through the film’s almost singular setting of the family home (the Hills’ real-life home, no less), and a sense of realism is attained through the use of minimal crew and equipment.

In a genre that boasts as many forgettable flops as Michael Caine or Bob Hoskins classics, it’s refreshing to see a film that finds something original to say without relying on clichéd one-liners or stock characters. Down Terrace has already proven itself to be a hit across the festival circuit, winning Best UK Feature at last year’s Raindance among others.

The Raindance Film Festival runs from September 29 to October 10 in London. More details on the Raindance webiste.

James Merchant