“Classe Tous Risques” – A.J. Hakari

They say to keep your friends close and your enemies closer. But what’s a guy to do when these two are slowly becoming one and the same? This is the situation faced by the lead character in Classe Tous Risques, the latest French gangster tale to be given the royal treatment by the Criterion Collection. In the tradition of Bob le Flambeur and Le Samouraï, here is a film that doesn’t glamorize the gangster lifestyle but rather shows how years spent living a life of crime can take a toll on someone. Classe Tous Risques isn’t an action-packed film by any means, but the compelling characterizations and increasingly tense atmosphere will grab your attention nevertheless.

Abel Davos (Lino Ventura) has spent the last part of his life on the run, dragging his wife and two sons from hideout to hideout. But with his resources dwindling and the police still in hot pursuit, Abel has no other choice but to abandon his Italian getaway and head back to his native France. After a last-minute stick-up job with his partner (Stan Krol), Abel and his family manage to make it back home, although a tragedy swiftly takes place thereafter that makes Abel’s bid for safety all the more desperate. He calls upon the services of members of his old gang, counting on them to bail him out and ensure him a chance to start life anew. But Abel soon discovers that those he thought were his friends aren’t exactly jumping at the chance to help him out, and with a nationwide manhunt designed to capture him underway, Abel finds himself turning back to his criminal ways in order to stay alive.

If there’s a moral to be gleaned from Classe Tous Risques, it’s, “Once a thief, always a thief.” As much as Abel yearns for redemption, a second chance to lead a life on the straight and narrow, he learns that the sins of his past are quickly catching up to him. It should be noted that the full extent of Abel’s criminal past is never revealed, nor is exactly what drove him to flee in the first place, but you do get the idea that he did some bad, bad things in his time. The character is the perfect example of an antihero, someone you hope will succeed despite having done some dirty deeds in the past. Abel’s emotional arc is convincing and well-executed, surrounded by a perfectly logical turn of events, as opposed to something like Andy Lau’s role in A World Without Thieves being presented as almost entirely likable, only for a massive dose of karma to wallop him out of nowhere.

Classe Tous Risques also takes the time to touch upon such themes as the nature of loyalty, honor among thieves (or, in this case, lack thereof), and different generations of gangsters coming together. One of the film’s more intriguing elements is the relationship between Abel and Eric Stark (Jean-Paul Belmondo), a fresh-faced youngster hired to smuggle Abel back into Paris. At first apprehensive that someone with next to no experience in the world of crime was chosen to pick him up, Abel grows to enjoy the lad’s presence and learns to trust him even more than some of his so-called colleagues. Both actors work very well together, as well as on their own, with Belmondo as the youthful upstart and Ventura as the world-weary man on the run (a role not unlike the one he would go on to play in Army of Shadows). Although the film is peppered with the occasional moment of gunplay, this is a picture where words are louder than bullets, the most compelling scenes, such as when Abel’s criminal friends first discuss what to do with him, being those in which the characters’ weapons are holstered.

My complaints about Classe Tous Risques are few, encompassed mostly by an arbitrary subplot involving an actress Eric befriends, as well as one of the most frustratingly anticlimactic endings you’ve ever seen in your life. But while some dialogue-heavy pictures build themselves on a foundation of pretentiousness, Classe Tous Risques has enough thematic strength to keep itself standing steady throughout its running time.

Rating: ★★★☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

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