Eight years after a wrongful murder conviction jewel thief Jacques Darnay (Alain Delon) looks to retrieve a hidden cache of stolen diamonds. With cops dogging his every move and violent rival gangs also chasing the loot, Darnay reaches out to his old friend, reformed criminal-turned-hotelier Gino Ruggieri (Francois Perrier). He also attempts to reconnect with his estranged girlfriend Sylviane (Andrea Ferreol). When tragedy strikes Darnay springs into action, using his wits and lethal skills to seek out both the missing jewels and the man that betrayed him.
Back in 1983 critics largely dismissed Alain Delon's second outing as producer-director-star as another vanity project. Nevertheless Le Battant ("The Fighter") turned a decent profit at the French box office. Viewed today, divorced from the critical prejudices surrounding its star at the time, it stands as a polished and entertaining thriller. Co-written by Delon with British born novelist, screenwriter and filmmaker Christopher Frank - whose breakthrough came making award-winning drama That Most Important Thing Is Love (1975), with controversial director Andrzej Zulawski before penning several earlier Delon vehicles including his directorial debut For a Cop's Hide (1981) - the film sees the iconic French star continue to refine his technique. He stages suspense sequences and orchestrates action set-pieces with confidence and no small amount of cinematic style. Fittingly the violence is stark and brutal without crossing the line into the crass shock tactics that mar Delon's later collaborations with director Jose Pinheiro: Parole de Flic (1985) and Let Sleeping Cops Lie (1988). On the flip side Delon lifts motifs from his cinematic mentors Jean-Pierre Melville and René Clement (the film closes with a dedication to "his tutor" Clement) without adding anything new. Between suspense scenes Delon's mise-en-scene tends to meander.
Adapted from a novel by André Caroff, the plot spins from a familiar Delon theme: the lone wolf hero unjustly victimized by authorities and society at large, yet able to hold his own. It is an archetype well established and widely celebrated in French popular culture and which served Delon throughout his entire career. However Le Battant also paints Delon's Jacques Darnay as a man well aware that his day's bucking the system are almost at an end. People repeatedly tell him the old days are over. He is out of step with modern French society the way some might argue Alain Delon was beginning to feel out of step with French cinema. Like Sean Connery in The Anderson Tapes (1971), Darnay is under surveillance from both cops and criminal s right from the start. Only here human ingenuity and resourcefulness triumph over soulless techno-bureaucracy. It is up to the viewer to decide whether that is due to the film's unwavering faith in the resilience of the human spirit or because Delon the director wants to make sure Delon the star always comes out on top.
It is true the film is in large part a showcase for Delon's charismatic screen presence. Yet why quibble when the man has charisma to burn? Which is not to say that he monopolizes the screen. Under Delon's direction Andrea Ferreol lands a brief though moving scene where she recounts the troubled life she led during the eight years Darnay was behind bars. Pierre Mondy essays an amusingly affable half-antagonist/half-ally as a sardonic, rumpled police inspector seemingly modelled (the script even admits as much) on Peter Falk as Columbo. Delon also brings back Anne Parillaud (looking especially lovely), his leading lady from For a Cop's Hide, as a sexy secondary love interest. Pleasingly the personable Parillaud plays a vivid and faceted heroine, delivering a moving melancholy monologue and bailing Darnay out of a tight spot. Of course, Delon being Delon she also disrobes frequently for multiple full-frontal love scenes.