Max (Piccoli) is a middle-aged detective who’s independently wealthy but still stuck and frustrated. To restore his professional reputation, he targets a team of bank robbers, who seem rather casual in their work and therefore ripe for plucking. His idea is to plant the idea of a heist and then arrive at the bank just in time to catch them red-handed. His unwitting accomplice is high-class prostitute Lily (Schneider) who’s been involved with the gang’s leader, Abel (Fresson), who also happens to be an old Army buddy of Max’s. Posing as a wealthy director of the bank in question, Max starts spending paid evenings with her, dropping subtle hints about the arrival of a big payroll. Will he prevail in his mission before the seductive Lily gets under his skin?
Director Sautet’s slow-burn mystery could have been made in Hollywood, in black-and-white, two decades earlier. It is in fact a noir tribute, as well as a first-rate character study animated by two stars at the top of their game. Little wonder that writer/director Sautet would collaborate a total of five times with this pair before the decade was out. The script crackles, but it’s the palpable chemistry between dark-browed Piccoli and the always stunning Schneider, smoky and dangerous in European call girl mode, that holds us fast. Skilled veteran Perier is a welcome presence as a senior officer who has Lily in his sights. A bit talky but never less than engrossing, for noir fans and Francophiles “Max” is pretty far from junk!