Film Review: Mesrine: Killer Instinct

After finding the trailer for this movie by accident on youtube, I read everything I could about the movie and who (Jacques) Mesrine was I just more and more excited for its release in the UK, and I was not disappointed!

Mesrine: Death Instinct is the first movie of this 2 part French gangster epic about the rise and fall of France’s 1970’s Public Enemy Number 1 Jacques Mesrine. He was a murderer, Killer, Kidnapper, Bankrobber, a media darling and a self-styled eccentric mad self-publicist who lived off his Public Enemy status like he was royalty.

Part 1 concentrates from 1959 up to 1970’s and it starts with split screen shots (like something from 1960s-early 1970’s action movie) but the tension building up to a big dramatic scene, that of the beginning of the end Mesrine’s life. Don’t scream at me  “Paul you’ve given the story away!!!” don’t worry if you read the press info or know of Mesrine’s story you know what his fate was.

The flashback goes right back to 1959 during France’s war with Algeria and you get a slight glimpse of the brutality of the war when Mesrine’s commanding officer forces him to take a gun and kill a woman in cold blood. Trembling and anxious Mesrine kills the captive instead, this was our first sight the ruthless and brutal actions he would take. He returns home living with his parents but that is short lived when he meets up with his friend Paul ( Gilles Lellouche )and they embark on the long road of crime.  He rises through the criminal ranks under the mentor and ageing boss Guido played by the fantastic Gerard Depardieu.

From the early moments, you can see Mesrine is schizophrenic madman when has no respect for women through the way he speaks to his Mother and the violent treatment of his wife and mother of his children Sofia (Elena Anya ), who pulls a gun on her choosing his criminal friends. With his mother, you can see his anger through his father where he argues with him to speak up against her but you learn the respect of father and son is thin due to the dark past his father bears and Guido is actually more the father figure. Mesrine’s other half when things are bad he always got his wife to go to his parents.

With his new found lover Jeanne (Cecile De France) before fleeing to Montreal, they pull off a few heists in casino’s which pushes Mesrine into the media limelight for the first time. Whilst in Canada the pair along with Quebec Liberation Front leader Jean-Paul Mercier (Roy Dupuis) failed kidnap attempt which sees the 3 been thrown into prison with Mesrine and Mercier been banged into a violent brutal Canadian secure unit. There is a disturbing but brilliant scene which shows the integration Mersine went through as the prison tried to break him down but as history goes he became more determined. The pair actually escapes the unit to go another bank robbing spree including robbing 2 banks next door to each other instead of escaping.

There are a few great scenes like the prison unit escape when Mesrine steals bolt clippers and clips his way through a wire fence after detecting a blindspot and the times the policing would be in that section creating an edge of the seat moment. It was a very cliched surrounding big bald macho guys, playing basketball distracting the guards, like something out of a Hollywood flick but the crazy thing was it was true! But what was more absurd was the attempt to break in again to release some of their other prison comrades which ended up been a big gunfight at the ok coral. At times this scene was too Hollywoodesque rather than real biopic moments. Another great moment is at the start of Mesrine’s criminal career when himself and friend Paul break into a house, the signs of inexperience of house breaking and when the owners return and find the 2 you get to see how cocky and over confident Mesrine was and how he talked his way out of the house and escape!

Vincent Cassel delivers the goods-producing a commanding convincing performance: a hard smoking and drinking, a schizophrenic madman who became a cult antihero who though he was a robin hood type figure though he never gave to the poor. But he also sees how vulnerable and  Mesrine was as well. Depardieu and Dupuis are fantastic supporting but so are De France and Anaya but both slightly underwritten characters which were a shame as both women played pivotal roles in Mesrine life. The film is written and directed by Jean-Francois Richet who is better known as the director of the 2005 remake of Assult on Precinct 13 starring Ethan Hawke. Richet’s delivers a strong script bringing together some great set pieces and a top notch running gags like how people pronounce Mesrine (MERR-in’).

Mesrine: Part 1, Death Instinct is a superb gripping french gangster movie which has powerhouse cast which actually delivers the goods (especially the lead man) and outshines Public Enemies with Johnny Depp in every department. With elements of Scarface, French Connection and Goodfellas this movie has all the ingredients to be one of all time great gangster movies in cinema history. Violent, gripping and entertaining.
Part 2  of the epic is out August 28th.

★★★★| Paul Devine

Crime, Thriller, History | France, 2008 |15 | 7th August 2009 (UK) | Momentum Pictures | Dir. Jean-François Richet |Vincent Cassel, Cécile De France, Gérard Depardieu, Gilles Lellouche, Elena Anaya |Buy:Mesrine – Parts 1 & 2 [Blu-ray]

Originally Posted At The Peoples Movies | 12th August 2011

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