Friday, 31 December 2010
Mesrine Part I: Killer Instinct
Starring: Vincent Cassel, Roy Dupuis, Gerard Depardieu,
By Alan Bacchus
French international criminal Jacques Mesrine gets his life story told on film in a rare two-part feature event. Perhaps he's famous in France or Quebec, but it's curious to see such a relatively obscure gangster receive such mainstream attention. But I'll give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt that Jacques Mesrine is a big deal , one deserving of being glorified in dual-feature fashion, like Che or Carlos.
Director Richet starts off in 1955 during the French occupation of Algeria, where Mesrine served as a soldier in the French Army, proving his salt as a killer by callously murdering an Algerian prisoner. We then catch up with him in '59, leaving his humble middle-class parents to join the growing drug trade in France. A tempestuous marriage that produces a daughter who's quickly discarded in favour of his chosen lifestyle leads to a series of colourful bank robberies and other criminal acts in the '60s.
In the late '60s, Mesrine escapes French authorities to Quebec, where he links up with FLQ terrorist Jean-Paul Mercier (played by Roy Dupuis) for more rampages abroad. Mesrine: Part 1 Killer Instinct ends with a raucous sequence where we see Mesrine escape a Quebec prison, arm himself to the teeth then go back to free his fellow prisoners. If this actually transpired, what balls!
Where a Canadian director might have slowed the pacing, French director Richet's experience with action (helming the Assault on Precinct 13 remake) helps keep a quick tempo. Vincent Cassel is typically engaging, the perfect type of iconoclast to play this madman of a character. For us Canadians though, the real fun is the rare opportunity to see a French star share the screen with a bonafide French-Canadian star. Roy Dupuis doesn't have a great deal to work with, but he grits his teeth well, looks mean and wears a grizzled tough guy beard as best he can. Despite the limited role, he's the perfect match for Cassel.
By the end, we unfortunately don't receive a great deal of emotional payoff: Mesrine and Mercier kill a pair of innocent park rangers in particularly brutal fashion then the film fades to black. It's difficult to form a critical opinion of Mesrine Part 1 without knowing the rest of the tale; it doesn't stand alone, like Che Part 1, and lacks the wonderful teasing of Kill Bill Vol. 1, Back to the Future 2 or even The Matrix Reloaded, so I'm not sure I care about seeing Part 2: Public Enemy #1.
The final text tells us Mesrine's time in, and escape from, the Quebec prison helped a shine a light on the brutality of these establishments. But without seeing any of this on screen, this final adjunct comes across like a desperate attempt to allay the inevitable accusations of glorifying Mesrine's violent, heinous actions.