Premier Cercle, Le (2009)

vt Inside Ring; vt The Dead List; vt Ultimate Heist; vt The First Circle
France, Italy / 92 minutes / color with bw stock footage before credits / Alter, Thelma, TF1, Canal+, CNC, TFM, Medusa Dir: Laurent Tuel Pr: Alain Terzian, Christine Gozlan Scr: Laurent Tuel, Simon Moutaïrou, Laurent Turner Cine: Laurent Machuel Cast: Jean Reno, Gaspard Ulliel, Vahina Giocante, Sami Bouajila, Isaac Sharry, Alberto Gimignani, Nicolas Bridet, Tony Gaultier, Jean-Paul Zennacker, Eric Challier, Julian Negulesco, Franco Trevisi, Gisèle Casadesus, Ruben Bakar.

Premier Cercle - 0 opener

Terrorizing their area of southern France is the Malakian clan, originally of Armenian stock; it’s led by ruthless patriarch Milo Malakian (Reno). Some years ago he lost his son Georgy in a shootout with the cops; now his hopes rest on his other son, Anton (Ulliel). Some of the clan’s activities are relatively innocuous, such as a clever car-theft trick they’ve worked out, but others are more serious. In course of a major heist at the grand Villa Marine, Milo ruthlessly murders a gardener who possibly saw too much—a crime that opens Anton’s eyes to the person he might become should he succeed his father in the “family business.”

Premier Cercle - 2 Milo shows his steel

Milo (Jean Reno) shows his steel by gunning down an innocent gardener.

But that’s not the only reason Anton wants out. He has fallen madly in love with Elodie Leconte (Giocante), the nurse who has been attending his grandmother (Casadesus); she’s horrified when she learns the truth about the Malakians, and isn’t sure she can live with it. Anton starts negotiations with Emilio (Gimignani) to build a ranch hotel that he and Elodie can run together after he’s finally managed to escape the clutches of his controlling father. The trouble is that it’s taking some time for Anton to raise his share of the money.

Premier Cercle - 1 Anton falls for Elodie

Anton (Gaspard Ulliel) falls hook, line and sinker for Elodie (Vahina Giocante).

When Milo discovers the scheme and, in order to thwart him, jumps in with the cash before Anton can do so, that’s the last straw so far as Anton’s concerned. He and Elodie run away to live in secrecy in a small Italian town, their only contact with the old life being Milo’s loyal sidekick Rudy (Sharry). When Milo discovers what’s going on, he orders Rudy to murder Elodie so he can get his son back under his thumb. Predictably, Anton’s love for Elodie proves more powerful than his lifelong friendship for Rudy.

All this while, Milo has been planning the “ultimate heist”—the seizing of tens of millions in casino cash from the commercial plane taking it away for banking. In order to have enough personnel for this daring raid, Milo recruits another gang leader, Frank (Trevisi), and his crew. Anton agrees to participate in the job on condition that, after it, Milo will leave him and Elodie be for the rest of their lives.

Premier Cercle - 5 the 'ultimate heist' in full swing

The “ultimate heist” in full swing.

Running in parallel with the story of Milo and Anton is that of Milo and the cop Saunier (Bouajila). Saunier and his colleagues know full well that the Malakian clan is behind countless crimes, but have never been able to nail them. The enmity is more personal for Saunier, who lost a good friend in the same shootout that claimed the life of Milo’s son Georgy—whose death Milo blames on Saunier. Once Saunier gets wind of the fact that Milo is preparing for a really major heist, he starts having the various kingpins followed, and even tries (unsuccessfully) to recruit Elodie as a mole. So great is Milo’s hatred for Saunier that on one occasion, spotting the car in which Saunier is conducting his surveillance, he uses his own as a weapon of attempted murder . . .

Premier Cercle - 3 Saunier (left) on stakeout with Mirelli

Saunier (Sami Bouajila, left) on stakeout with his sidekick Mirelli (Nicolas Bridet).

Le Premier Cercle has much of the feel of a US family-saga gangster movie à la The Godfather (1972), stripped down and transported into a different culture. Reno appears to be making a conscious effort to emulate a US actor who didn’t in fact appear in The Godfather but has done so in countless other movies of the genre: Robert De Niro. Anton, although the trajectory of his story differs, is analogous to Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone; his idyll with Elodie in the remote Italian town mirrors that of Michael Corleone’s idyll in Sicily with Apollonia Vitelli (Simonetta Stefanelli). Further parallels could be drawn, although drawing them would be a futile exercise: by the very nature of their subject matter, lots of gangster movies have elements in common. Le Premier Cercle may not have much that’s new to say, but this doesn’t mean it’s especially derivative, and it’s certainly nicely staged and well acted. Unlike most of its US counterparts, it has almost no gore or sadism . . . and, as I realized to my surprise after watching it, little or no cussing. The fact that it could tell its tale perfectly convincingly without having every other word of dialogue a profanity might offer a lesson to many of its anglophone counterparts, which often seem to have adopted “fuck” as the new “and.”

Premier Cercle - 4 impulsively Milo tries to kill Saunier

Milo impulsively tries to kill Saunier by driving him off a dock.

The name of the clan, Malakian, was apparently chosen as a tribute to the French director Henri Verneuil (1920–2002), born as Ashot Malakian in Turkey of Armenian parents who, like Milo’s family, fled to southern France from the genocide of Armenians perpetrated from 1915 onward by Turkey’s Ottoman regime. Verneuil’s movies of noirish interest include Les AMANTS DU TAGE (1955; vt The Lovers of Lisbon), GAS-OIL (1955; vt Hi-Jack Highway), Une Manche et la Belle (1957), MÉLODIE EN SOUS-SOL (1963; vt Any Number Can Win; vt The Big Grab; vt The Big Snatch), Le CLAN DES SICILIENS (1968; vt The Sicilian Clan), Le CASSE (1971) and PEUR SUR LA VILLE (1975; vt Fear Over the City).

Premier Cercle - 6 closer

On Ultimate Heist [DVD]




4 thoughts on “Premier Cercle, Le (2009)

  1. The parallel with THE GODFATHER is most interesting! As to the matter of heist movies I’ve always been a fan dating back to Melville, Kubrick, and Dassin. Ou have written a very spirited and riveting review, one that has me already quite interested!

    • It’s certainly quite an enjoyable movie, although not really worth walking a million miles for — unless you’re a Jean Reno fan, as I am, and as my wife is to a quite embarrassing degree.

      Many thanks for dropping by, and for the friendly words!

  2. Not come across this one, but thanks for mentioning the link to Vernuil as it did remind me, from what you wrote, of SICILIAN CLAN especially. And I do like Jean Reno, a man clearly built on the Gabin mould!

    • Interesting that you should compare Reno to Gabin; I confess it’s a comparison I hadn’t thought of before. Facially, yes: they both have sort of pizza features. But Reno has a far greater range than Gabin ever had; in movies like Wasabi and of course Les Visiteurs he shows great talent as a comic actor, and I’ve seen him be effective in romantic roles, too. In this sort of role, though, yes, you’re absolutely correct. As I say, I’m surprised it hasn’t crossed my mind before!

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