Mesrine: Killer Instinct


Reviewed by: Trinity

Mesrine: Killer Instinct
"The raw energy that Cassel brought to his role in La Haine has been harnessed again."

It's interesting that this two-part dramatisation of the life of one of France's (and Canada's) most notorious criminals is released in the same year that sees Michael Mann take on John Dillinger in Public Enemies. Mesrine is, however, the more ambitious both in scope and scale and by far the better film. Taking a 20-year arc, from Jacques Mesrine serving the French Army in Algeria through to his rise and ultimate fall as an attention grabbing criminal, a more suitable comparison would be Sergio Leone's flawed masterpiece: Once Upon A Time in America. Likewise, Mesrine is brilliant but flawed, often jumping wildly from one escapade to another. The eye of this whirlwind is Vincent Cassel, whose performance as the young Mesrine is mesmerising.

Starting off with his explosive demise in a hail of bullets, Mesrine: Killer Instinct plays like a homage to the fast-paced gangster movies of the Seventies. The slick, multiple angle montage is a sharp contrast to the early part of Jacques Mesrine's life - torturing prisoners in an Algerian cell. This imagery is neither an excuse nor a crude setup for the character, it is merely a part of his life, a life which gets dragged further into the criminal underworld when he is introduced to local gang boss Guido (a rather portly Gerard Depardieu) who is also a member of the right wing terrorist faction, the Organisation of the Secret Army.

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Through a quick succession of robberies, casual violence and jail time, Mesrine is shown to be a paradoxical character, at once brutal and protective, passionate and yet indifferent. This comes to a head, after his release from jail he attempts to go straight, only to turn back to crime when he is downsized. Fleeing to Canada, he meets up with Jean-Paul Mercier, a member of the Quebec Liberation Front, and quickly establishes himself as Canada's Public Enemy No. 1.

It is often difficult to pull back from the movie and realise that Mesrine was a real-life criminal. His escapades, particularly in this first movie are so audacious that you could be forgiven for thinking that he was a figment of scriptwriter Dafri's imagination. But the real Mesrine was always one to seek the limelight, and Cassel plays to this well, a burning presence in almost every scene. Cassel's ability to tackle both the snappily edited bank heists and the quieter, more introspective portions is a revelation. The raw energy that he brought to his role in La Haine has been harnessed again, particularly in a five-minute scene in solitary confinement. Forget the other actors, Cassel is this movie.

So why isn't this film perfect? It has an impressive central character, is endlessly entertaining and bombastically scored. The problem is in its structure, or rather lack of it. Because we know how the story will end, this film does not work without its companion piece. Going out on a relative high, we are unclear over whether we should be celebrating or demonising Mesrine, aptly perhaps given the contradictory nature of his character and echoing the opening title: "To each his point of view".

So watch this film, and be taken on its violent, anarchic thrill ride, but remember: you can only truly appreciate the highs once you've been through the lows. There is so much more to come in Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1.

Reviewed on: 07 Aug 2009
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The rise to fame of a violent modern day Robin Hood.
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Director: Jean-Francois Richet

Writer: Jacques Mesrine, Abdel Raouf Dafri

Starring: Vincent Cassel, Cecile De France, Gerard Depardieu, Roy Dupuis

Year: 2008

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France, Canada, Italy

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