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Mesrine: Killer Instinct - Review

Mesrine: Killer Instinct

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

JACQUES Mesrine is to French culture what John Dillinger is to American – that is to say, a gangster who captured the imagination of a nation for the way in which he stood up to the state.

Like Dillinger, he was ultimately gunned down in cold blood by the authorities who had exhausted other attempts to silence and hold him.

It’s ironic – and an embarrassment of riches – to be gifted not one but three movies in the same year that explore these fascinating historical characters.

Mann’s Public Enemies looked at Dillinger and, by virtue of the star presence of Johnny Depp, will be the box office winner. But Mesrine’s story – as conveyed in Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy No.1 – is every bit as good, if not marginally better.

Killer Instinct is released three weeks ahead of Public Enemy No.1 and chronicles Mesrine’s rise.

It’s brash, sexy, violent and features a mesmerising central performance from Vincent Cassel.

The film picks up after Mesrine has served his country in the Algerian war and returns to his home town of Clichy, outside Paris, in ’60s France, where he quickly turns to crime to pay his way, while seducing any woman who takes his fancy.

Along the way, he’s mentored by a local crime boss (Gerard Depardieu) but quickly develops such a formidable reputation that he is forced to flee to America where he continues to get into trouble given the outlandish nature of his escapades.

The film draws to a close in the aftermath of Mesrine’s bungled attempt to return to a US prison and free some of his former inmate colleagues.

Throughout, audiences will be transfixed by Cassel’s energetic central performance and the muscular nature of Jean-Francois Richet’s direction.

Both star and director ensure that Mesrine is a complex individual – charming one minute, psychopathic the next. But they don’t seek to condemn or condone his actions, rather allowing events to play out so that audiences can decide.

As a result, the film barely stops to draw breath, thrusting us from one amazing exploit to the next, while offering glimpses of the characters that helped to shape Mesrine’s outlook on life (whether it was his father, his mentor or genteel first wife).

This does tend to make things feel a little episodic, and ill serves a couple of the supporting cast, but it’s not to the film’s lasting detriment as Cassel’s towering central performance deserves to be the main focal point.

Indeed, such is the spell he weaves that audiences will probably be counting down the days to see Public Enemy No.1 to find out the circumstances that contributed to Mesrine’s violent end.

For as much as offering a searing portrait of the man behind the myth, Richet’s film also serves as a fascinating exploration of the ultimate futility of crime… as a man who refused to live by society’s rules gradually awakens to the fact that his existence can’t have a happy ending.

Trust us, part two is worth the wait!

In French, with subtitles

Certificate: 15
Running time: 113mins
UK Release Date: August 7, 2009