Mesrine: Killer Instinct

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Mesrine: Killer Instinct
Watch our video interview with Cassel

Vincent Cassel snarls and swaggers his way into the acting big league with a lapel-grabbing central turn in this arresting, two-part French true-crime biopic (the second instalment opens on August 28). As Jacques Mesrine – the jail-springing, wife-beating, bank-robbing, kidnapping, Arab-hating, anti-establishment poster boy of post-war France (who’s also quite handy in the kitchen) – Cassel injects a jolt of wild energy and ambiguity into what could easily have been another flatulent, apologist gangster epic.

We open on a portentous title card declaring that any man’s life is too varied to be caught on film. The movie traces Mesrine’s rise up the criminal ranks in his home town of Clichy, outside Paris, in the 1960s. The heat builds and he flees to America and is extradited to French Canada where he pulls off a dashing escape from a brutal maximum-security prison in 1972.
The filmmakers offer us a splintered, contradictory portrait of a man who we see one moment calmly accepting his redundancy from an architecture firm and the next forcing a pistol into his wife’s mouth. Yes, Cassel has bagged the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ role that used to be reserved for Joe Pesci, but he plays it with a touch more depth, compassion and self-awareness.
On the downside, there’s a feeling that every scene strains to make a point. In one sweep, the film blames Mesrine’s behaviour on his brutal experiences in Algeria (where he assisted in torture), his over-lenient parents and the instability of the labour market. Yet, as the film gallops forward, a more interesting conflict develops, and our early reading of Mesrine as an over-confident, trigger-happy jester has to be rethought. This is in no small part down to Cassel’s textured and charismatic performance.

The pacing of the film is breakneck: scenes are so short that potentially fruitful characters like Mesrine’s rotund point man, Guido (Gérard Depardieu), and his kindly first wife, Sofia (Elena Anaya), get short shrift. The direction, too, from Jean-François Richet (‘Assault on Precinct 13’), is no-frills – the action is rudimentary and some moments resemble a TV movie.

But the cosmetic aspects of the film matter little: ‘Mesrine’ is about the personal ramifications of a life in crime. It’s about the inner loneliness of a mobster, the paranoia and pride that make if tough, even dangerous, to rely on associates and friends and how a simple public display of violence is all it takes to overtake your peers on the highway of immorality.

Watch our video interview with Cassel

By: David Jenkins


Release details

Rated: 15
Release date: Friday August 7 2009
Duration: 0 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Jean-François Richet
Cast: Vincent Cassel
Cécile de France
Gérard Depardieu
Gilles Lellouche
Roy Dupuis
Myriam Boyer
Elena Anaya

Average User Rating

3 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:2
  • 4 star:1
  • 3 star:3
  • 2 star:2
  • 1 star:0
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Totally dissappointing. Far too. Jumpy. Skips years at a. Time leaving no. Motivation for the characters. Good violence, though. Jut the right side of shocking, but not too far over the line.

Part one better than part two. seemed like there was something missing, can't put my finger on it. putting the ending first spoilt it, but overall have seen worse.

I LOVED this film. Gripping, fast-paced, Vincent Cassel was incredible. I wanted to watch part 2 straight away! A must-see gangster film.

I LOVED this film. Gripping, fast-paced, Vincent Cassel was incredible. I wanted to watch part 2 straight away! A must-see gangster film.

Went to see this at Haymarket on Sat nite. The TO reviewer must've been watching a different cut of 'Mesrine' if he can say that this film sheds any light on "the inner loneliness of a mobster". If Mesrine as a person lacked morals or a code, fair enough (God knows, we've all seen too many flicks where the makers desperately try to convince us that 'their' criminal is a firearms philosopher rather than your common-or-garden lowlife scum); but if this is the case, there has to be something else to drive along the proceedings - a verve, a barrel-load of thrills, something, anything. There isn't. We don't root for Mesrine because he's not fighting for or against anything (the one exception being when he's locked up in Canada). He's not funny or charming; just brutish to nearly one and all. The female characters were a big disappointment - all doormats of one kind or another. Whilst we can forgive the lack of depth, what's harder to fathom is how the director made the Mesrine story so boring to watch. Blood and guns and robbers have rarely been as yawnsome to endure as this. The only remotely gripping part was his Canadian escape, but even then our credulity was given a good stretching (a maximum-security facility with just two wire fences separating incarceration and freedom?). Cassel isn't bad (or robotic), but there just isn't anything for him to play with. Part two may turn out to be a huge improvement on this but we certainly won't be paying to find out.

Vincent Casel is very watchable in this film. Although nearly 2 hours long, the film is fast paced and enjoyable. My main criticism would be the violence, though given the subject matter, to be expected. I look forward to part 2.

This should have been a great film. It isn't bad but the mistake was casting Vincent Cassel as Mesrine.He is far too robotic in his performance and lacks the charisma to turn this into a great film. Maybe part two will be better. If you want to see a really good film similar in storyline, then see a film called "Stander" based on a true story starring Thomas Jane.