Three Men to Kill

Certificate: 15
Running time: 93 mins
Director: Jacques Deray
Starring: Alain Delon, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Michel Auclair
Genre: Crime, Drama
Country: France

If ever there was an example of how no good deed goes unpunished this is it.  When Michel (Alain Delon) helps the victim of an apparent car accident he unwittingly puts himself between the crosshairs for the men who had actually shot the driver.  Soon everyone he comes into contact with becomes a potential victim as they move mountains in an effort to find him and tie up all loose ends.

Three Men to Kill, adapted for the screen by star Delon from a novel by French crime writer Jean-Patrick Manchette, is at times a taut little film and though narratively it’s little more than a case of “wrong place wrong time” there are some moments that are genuinely worth singing about.  The attempt on Michel at the beach is well constructed and shot with an economy of scale that really helps create a degree of claustrophobia on screen that certainly helps the audience relate to the narrative.

Where a lot of the hard edged Italian crime cinema had to do with political and legal corruption the best of the French crime cinema of the era is very much living through the hangover related to the Algerian revolution and France’s institutional security.  The fact that the film plays into this using the assassination of a mission defence contractor is no coincidence and taps wonderfully into a psychological reality that many of the older generations of cinema goers in France would be acutely aware of.

Visually the film is unchallenging and adheres well to the idea of the loyal camera.  It, like other offerings in this genre work best when the camera is faithful to the protagonist only leaving his side to push the audience ahead of him (with regards to knowledge) thus creating tension on screen.  It’s tried and tested and works well in Three Men to Kill.

Delon (as Michel) gives a run of the mill performance; at no point during the course of the film, when he’s being hounded, do you ever get the feeling that he might be in danger, worried or threatened and it’s that steadiness of emotional engagement that ultimately costs the film any real chance of an identity in a genre that is heavily populated with better examples of the unfortunate Samaritan.  The truth of the matter is that North by Northwest set a lofty bar when it comes to films of this ilk and if you’re not going to offer anything new then you better make sure what you do offer up is of a high standard which is where this film, unfortunately, comes up short.

It’s an enjoyable film and one that won’t tax an audience.  It will certainly pass an hour and a half but you can’t help but want more; expect more; deserve more.  Three Men to Kill is another of the endangered films that has been rescued from extermination and I can’t help but feel sorry for the film that missed out because of it.


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