Mesrine: Killer Instinct

This is the riveting real life tale of Jacques Mesrine – a French criminal with a portfolio of audacious heists and even more shockingly daring escapes.  He became intoxicated by – and addicted to – his own notoriety, which he embellished with some left wing political posing.  He saw himself as a modern Clyde Barrow and positioned himself that way in the media (without thinking too much about the final scene in Bonnie and Clyde).  At the end of the day, Mesrine was just a vicious thug, although one with an unusual amount of bravado and luck.

Vincent Cassell brings Mesrine to life in a brilliant performance that does not glorify Mesrine, but inhabits a countenance that shifts  instantaneously from jokey charm to cold-blooded hatred.  American audiences may remember Cassell as the psycho Russian gangster in Eastern Promises and the suave Francois “The Night Fox” Toulour  in the Ocean’s movies.

Director Jean-Francois Richet showcases Cassell’s performance with a series of outstanding artistic choices.  The harsh violence is shown for what it is but not stylized.  Richet makes strategic use of split screen that enhances the story without distracting from it.  And when Mesrine meets his new girlfriend (Cecile De France) and she says that she’s up for anything, the movie immediately cuts to the two of them robbing a bank.  Point made.

Richet and Abdel Raouf Dafri (screenwriter of A Prophet) adapted the screenplay from Mesrine’s memoir.  Dafri has had a spectacular year in crime and prison dramas.

The entire cast is good, particularly Gerard Depardieu, who summons all his hulking menace to play a gang leader who is at least as dangerous as Mesrine.

Richet and Cassell return later this year with the second part of the story, titled Mesrine: Public Enemy #1.

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