Commercialised pangs are instant, found within the opening seconds of Jean-Luc Godard’s Band of Outsiders. Chirpy piano music and lightning-fast cuts between the three leading characters, following it up with a rather effective, yet broadly welcoming establishing shot, it is not the artistic fervour one would expect from the Breathless director. Having said that, it is a welcome change of pace. Far removed from the love or hate variety presented in Pierrot le Fou, yet Band of Outsiders is not his most accessible work. It does not tap into his unique position as an artist. That is, to some extent, why Band of Outsiders is so good.
That is not to say there is a love of commercialisation, far from it, but Band of Outsiders removes the pretention and smugness of the typical, latter-day musings of Godard. A mind gone mad; it is comforting to see that throughout the 1960s he could at least tone it down. Too much of a good thing. Or, in the case of Godard, too much of whatever his style was. Band of Outsiders shares a love of cinema many viewers will hold within them. But, once that dust has settled and the initial shock and fun has worn off, Band of Outsiders turns into a typecast heist prep piece. Ironically, all those points I made about his change of pace are both for the better and worse. It captures the best of his craft, but the worst of his storytelling abilities. Breathless was the sweet spot, Pierrot le Fou the watering down of story in the face of direction. Band of Outsiders, then, is the reverse of Pierrot le Fou, its story takes precedence, but it is of little interest; whereas Pierrot le Fou had little interest in its technical merits.
Still, as a concept to stand alone on, Band of Outsiders is somewhat enjoyable. Its dialogue is steeped in misery and fear, even where it is meant to be jolly and flirtatious. Betrayal and wavering feelings for one another, this trio of characters are well cast and give solid performances, grappling with strong scenes from time to time. Their reservations and romance float through the film with begrudging acceptance of their surroundings. A fight against some system they feel is destroying their inner worth, careering away from the classes they study in to go off on an adventure that is doomed to failure. Godard works well in convincing his characters that this is the future they want, but the seeds of doubt are always present, for the audience at least.
What Band of Outsiders does that so many others do better is conjures up enjoyable characters and litters them throughout an engaging premise. His scriptwriting is good, as are many of the elements that make up this piece. But nothing is great. There is no monumental, awe-inspiring moment that will hit the nail on the head for what it means to make rewarding cinema. Perhaps it all comes back to that idea of making a blockbuster hit, rather than focusing on the artistry and seeing where it takes him. Godard intentionally neuters that budding ability to take an audience away from the story, for better or worse, and it turns into one of his more palatable offerings, perhaps the most engaging and accessible of his career.