DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Mesrine: KIller Instinct

Sunday 27 September 2009

Mesrine: KIller Instinct

Mesrine: Killer Instinct (2008) dir. Jean-Francois Richet
Starring Vincent Cassel, Gerald Depardieu, Cecile De France and Roy Dupuis


By Blair Stewart

Jacques Mesrine was France's answer to John "Public Enemy" Dillinger, a supercrook who'd caused enough havok the police were willing to bend the rules in order to take him down. Spanning several countries including Canada, from bank robbing to kidnapping to murder, ol' Jacques had his fingers in many pies while he taunted the authorties. And when Mesrine was caught and thrown in prison he broke out-four times in fact.

Having a criminal career this expansive French action director Jean-Francois Richet has enough material for two films - the sequel "Mesrine: Public Enemy #1" to be reviewed seperately.

Starting with his military career in late 50's Algeria where he was used as muscle(and an executioner)on prisoners, Jacques returned to Paris and quickly fell in with his old gangster buddies led by an impressively hefty played by Gerald Depardieu.
After a string of crimes Jacques is eventually jailed and upon his release attempts at going straight to save his marriage. Once this is thwarted and the marriage is pitched off to the dust-bin Mesrine returns to his roots with ferocity, enough so that he flees to Montreal to avoid getting wacked. Together with his hoodlum lover Jeanne(Cecile De France) and FLQ buddy Jean-Paul(Roy Dupuis) they mix up the concept of 'laying low' with 'kidnapping their millionaire boss for ransom'. This leads to Jacques being caught and imprisoned in the notorious Quebec SCU prison where he escapes with new-found purpose in his ways, so much so that he actually returned to stage a disastrous large-scale breakout. The film ends with Jacques heading back to France to leave a new trail of destruction.

As the notorious subject Vincent Cassel plays Mesrine as a constantly shifting entity of charm and violence, prone to boasts of entitlement and delusion. The film presupposes Mesrine was shaped by the guilt of his father's complicity with the Germans during WWII and his own sorrid history in France's occupation of Algeria that turned him into a quick-tempered wildcard.

Cassel is surperb in the lead, unconcerned with vanity as he packs on the pounds while his subject blazes through criminal history. Interestingly, the film was shot in reverse so Cassel could shed the pounds and avoid a lengthy split in filming like DeNiro's four month binge for the second half of "Raging Bull". In support Roy Dupuis brings pride to the Quebec film scene with a charismatic turn as his Canadian partner-in-crime.

Containing enough split-screens for a De Palma retrospective, filmmaker Richet and scriptwriter Abdel Raouf Dafri condemn Mesrine's actions( more so in the sequel) while reveling in the brazen shoot-outs and the chutzpah of a man who would rob a bank across the street of another bank he just robbed.

"Mesrine: Killer Instinct" can be tremdendously entertaining, but it still lacks
the kinetic energy and audacity of Scorsese's "Goodfellas" and "Casino", two of my preferred 'realistic' gangster films. After seeing this first-part, the second-part's ending is obvious, but the life of Mesrine demanded you keep an eye out for him even when he was in handcuffs.

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