Starring: Vincent Cassel, Gerard Depardieu, Cecile De. France, Alena Enaya, Gilles Lellouche
Director: Jean-Francois Richet
Writer(s): Jacques Mesrine, Abdel Raouf Dafri
Cinematography: Robert Gantz
Original Score: Marcus Trumpp
Running Time: 113 Mins.
There is no doubt about it, Mesrine, as played by Vincent Cassel, is a tour de force performance, at once charming, brutal, deadly and cunning there is no way you couldn’t be drawn in by his portrayal of the man, and myth, for pure entertainment value it is dynamite, but enough of Cassel’s performance, we all know he’s a great actor and can play this kind of character in his sleep (see Eastern Promises and, apparantly, La Haine, though I have yet to see it). So why would we want to return to it again, and is it worth returning?
Well yes and no, Mesrine to anyone outside France, is likely an unknown entity, he is, for those that hadn’t already guessed, France’s most infamous member of the mob, ruling like a modern day Robin Hood, minus returning the riches to the poor, as he robbed banks and seduced women (as this film would have us believe) whilst staging daring prison breaks. In truth he did carry out all of these act’s and director Richet (best known as the man behind the Assault on Precinct 13 remake) puts them onto film admirably, but there are a number of things lacking that spare Mesrine: Killer Instinct its place in the pantheon of both great biopic’s and great gangster films…of which the bar is admittedly very high (Goodfellas and The Godfather as if you hadn’t figured it out!).
Mesrine: Killer Instinct is effectively part 1 of the Mesrine story, shot at once with its second part much like Che and Kill Bill it is to be followed up in a few weeks time with the second part Mesrine: Publin Enemy Number One, commendably it is not a film that feels like the first part of an ongoing story, it has a clear cut beginning middle and end and the conclusion is as thrilling as you could hope for, whilst setting up the more complex story strands to follow, delving into Mesrine’s affiliations with terrorist groups and a number of political movements that are set to follow in part 2.
Part 1 though deals with Mesrine’s rise to “public enemy number one”, there is little denying his story is an interesting one and it’s a story told with pace, jumping from one key moment in his rise to the next, along the way many faces come and go and it’s a telling sign that only Gerard Depardieu makes any kind of imprint on your memory alongside Cassel. While all other charcters come and go in the blink of an eye, partners in crime and women seem ten a penny to Mesrine, and maybe this was the effect Richet aimed for. The problem is without a solid ensemble in a gangster film you have no frame of reference for the main protagonist, think of the crowd around Henry Hill in Goodfellas, be they good or bad it is in his reactions to others that we form a view of Hill as a man, no such structure here meaning Cassel is great to watch, yes, but he really comes across as just another gangster.
This problem also begets the issue of time and place, supposedly set in the 60’s and 70’s only Mesrine’s facial hair give us any idea of the decade, let alone year, we are in, and environment is key in a story such as this, setting the pace and air of a film, without atmosphere any character the film as a whole has becomes lost. This is a huge setback as given a good ensemble and some better art direction we might have been looking at a classic, all the more of an achievement considering the potential to have become a FOUR HOUR classic with 1 and 2 all in…as it is we must simply wait to see if anything is added in the latter stretch of Mesrine’s life.
What should have been a gripping gangster/biopic simply becomes a run-of-the-mill mob thriller raised from obscurity by Cassel’s lively performance, hopefully Mesrine part two can amend some of it’s misgivings, thouugh to its credit it works well enough as a passable stand-alone film….