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Hitman Jef Costello is a perfectionist who always carefully plans his murders and who never gets caught. One night however, after killing a night-club owner, he's seen by witnesses. His efforts to provide himself with an alibi fail and more and more he gets driven into a corner.
Source : IMDb
In an interview with Rui Nogueira, Melville indicated that he had shot an alternate version of Jef's death scene. In the alternative ending, which is actually the original version as Melville had written in the script, Costello meets his death with a picture-perfect grin à la Delon. The scene was changed to its current form when Melville angrily discovered that Delon had already used a smiling death scene in another of his films. Still images of the smiling death exist.
The film has influenced other works, listed in chronological order:
Walter Hill's 1978 film The Driver features a similar dynamic between a reluctant female witness and, this time, the getaway driver, not the assassin. Ryan Gosling's protagonist in the similarly named 2011 film Drive also shares many key characteristics with the protagonist of Le Samourai.
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.
Jim Jarmusch paid homage to Le Samouraï with the 1999 crime-drama, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, starring Forest Whitaker as a meditative, loner assassin who lives by the bushido code. In the same manner that Jef Costello has a huge ring of keys that enables him to steal any Citroën DS, the hitman Ghost Dog has an electronic "key" to break into luxury cars.
Hong Kong director Pang Ho-Cheung's 2001 crime-and-filmmaking comedy You Shoot, I Shoot features Eric Kot as a hitman who idolizes Alain Delon's Jef, dressing like the character, and speaking to him via a Le Samouraï poster in his apartment.
The film is ranked #39 in Empire magazines "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.
Source : Wikipedia