Courtesy of France (with subtitles) comes Mesrine: Killer Instinct, a mesmerizing film about infamous French gangster of the 1960s and 70s, Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel). The first of two parts, Mesrine: Killer Instinct, is based on Mesrine’s autobiography, “L’instinct de mort,” and is directed by Jean-François Richet with screenplay by Abdel Raouf Dafri.
Not well-known, if known at all in the US, Mesrine is legendary in France—on a par with John Dillinger. It’s not clear exactly why he embarked on a life of crime, but after serving with the military in Algeria, Mesrine returned to France and his career in crime began shortly thereafter.
Cassel’s portrayal of Mesrine is utterly fascinating and from this portrayal we can see why the French public was so captivated by him. Mesrine’s personality could change on a dime. Suffering from anger management issues, he could be sexy, charming, funny—but one wrong look, word or perceived slight could turn him instantly into a brutish pig and even worse—killer.
Mesrine’s crime sprees spanned continents, even bringing him to the US, but he seemed to save his worse exploits for Canada and France. Robberies, kidnappings, murder…he committed them all. And his claim that no prison could hold him was absolutely right. Mesrine’s prison breaks were legendary and unbelievable in their daring. Richet brilliantly captures all of this action, and the prison escape scenes are particularly well shot.
Do I sound admiring? In the middle of the movie, I suddenly realized that this man had absolutely no redeeming qualities, other than loyalty to friends (God forbid they crossed him; the consequences were quick and severe), but somehow I was almost cheering for him. I didn’t feel good about it, but I couldn’t help myself. You find yourself unwittingly on Mesrine’s side thanks to a great script, non-stop action, and absolutely fabulous acting.
Cassel won César Awards (the French equivalent of an Oscar) for Parts 1 and 2. It’s not hard to see why. Put simply: he is great. Cassel is supported by a brilliant cast. Gérard Depardieu, (nearly unrecognizable from the neck down, he’s gotten that fat) is terrifyingly wonderful as Guido, Mesrine’s “mentor” and crime lord. Elena Anaya as Mesrine’s naïve wife, Sofia, is heartbreaking in her innocence. Especially terrific is Cécile De France as Jeanne Schneider, the Bonnie to Mesrine’s Clyde. Their first “job“ together is nothing short of spectacular.
Mesrine: Killer Instinct is nearly two hours long, but it feels like just an hour. Paced to perfection with not one dull moment, you will be on the edge of your seat throughout. Part 2 cannot come soon enough.
4 nuggets out of 4