Vincent Cassel Is One Of The Best Actors Of Our Generation (And Nobody Knows It)

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French actor Vincent Cassel is the man. In a perfect world, I could start and end this article with that one sentence. Alas, I need to convince all of you as well, so that is just what I am here to do. When people think amazing actors, it seems there are a handful of performers that most people seem to agree on. Even if some of his recent choices have not been up to snuff, Brad Pitt seems to be an actor most seem to enjoy and appreciate. Very few would argue that Daniel Day-Lewis is not a genius of modern film. Robert Downey Jr. is the underdog who fought his way back from the very edge of the abyss to become even MORE popular then he was before his descent. Kevin Spacey may seem to be vanishing from the limelight, but in the late 90′s, very few actors could touch what he was doing. Hell, even unkempt guys like Sam Rockwell seem like they rarely fail.

But what about those great actors who seem to fall between the cracks? The actors whose names and faces seem to always be forgotten, no matter how consistently amazing their performances are? We all have a handful of actors and actresses who we greatly admire, but feel like the rest of the world doesn’t for some reason. And I think the best of us want to change that. We want to make sure that attention gets a little more evenly distributed, if you catch my drift.

While there are a great many under-appreciated actors in modern film, (Michael Pitt to name just one more), few are as under-appreciated as Vincent Cassel. Though the reason for him being under-appreciated on American shores makes total sense (he is a French actor), and even though he has tasted a bit of a cross over success here, his American films have gotten him very little attention (outside of one I will mention shortly, that involves a dark water fowl). I am here to let you know that if you are avoiding his French films because you don’t like subtitles or don’t think the movies will hold your interest, you are missing out on one of the greatest actors alive right now, regardless of culture or nationality.

The best actors can be all things at any given time, and that is just how I see Vincent Cassel. In one film, he can be a foaming madman, hinting at deriving joys from incestuous relations, yet in another film, he can be the dashing lead, causing woman to swoon at his steely eyes and distinct accent. He can be the hero chasing the bad guy, and a second later, he can be the bad guy. He has shown a cinematic rage few actors could touch, and I think it’s time for all the world to familiarize themselves with this amazing actor.


Irreversible Introductions:

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The first time I remember seeing Vincent Cassel on film was in a French movie by extreme director Gapsar Noe, called Irreversible. Those of you who have seen it can recall just how the film climbs under your skin and just stays with you for months (err, a lifetime) after seeing it. For those who have NOT seen Irreversible, the best way I could explain it is a day that goes in reverse, and it is very much the worst day of these people’s lives.

It is not an easy film to sit through at all, and part of this could be due to the unnervingly realistic rape scene of Monica Bellucci (Cassel’s real life wife until recent split), which is all shot in real time and lasts upwards of eight minutes long, with close-ups. I can completely understand why some people cannot make it through that movie, but even most people who see it seem to miss the point. The point of the film lies in the name.

Things happen in this movie that cannot be undone, ever. And though some may see it as a revenge movie, those people need to watch the film a little closer, especially the revenge scene that opens up the movie, because (SPOILER) if you pay close attention, Vincent Cassel’s character, Marcus, actually exacts revenge on the wrong person, and the rapist in the movie gets away without so much as a scratch, so therein lay the title (END SPOILER).

So after seeing that film and being blown away by it and the performances, I decided to look into some other films that Vincent Cassel was in to see if this guy was consistently the powerhouse he was in that film. I would go onto to discover that yes, he is mesmerizing in pretty much all he does. This brings me to my next point. The one role that we REALLY know him for over here on our shores, as oppose to Irreversible. I am, of course, talking about his turn as Thomas LeRoy in the brilliant Black Swan.

Come on, we can ALL admit that we wanted to punch him in the face repeatedly as the slimy ballet teacher who seems to be driving Natalie Portman to get a little TOO in touch with her dark side, but what you need to understand is, I view performances where actors and actresses can make you curl your fists with disgust as the highest level of performance.

Any actor can make me laugh. Any actor can seem angry. Any actor can show sadness. But when an actor oozes such slime that you feel yourself clawing to climb into the TV and punch them in the face until they weep, now that is the type of performance you will never forget, and that is what Cassel did with Black Swan.

I mean, think about that scene where he is telling Portman she can’t be the Black Swan because no man would “want to f*ck her” and then he proceeds to ask his lead dancer if he would f*ck her, as if it was a healthy, normal thing to ask in front of dozens of people. We all go on to learn that he is doing that ON PURPOSE to help summon the Black Swan in her, but regardless, the scene is disgusting, wholly uncomfortable, and for both of those reasons, absolutely brilliant.

Now onto the a few things you have NOT seen Vincent Cassel in.

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The Mesrine Saga:

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The first thing you need to know about these movies is that, as fantastical as they are at times, Jacques Mesrine was a real guy. A  prolific French gangster from the 60′s and 70′s who was sort of a “Dillinger meets Gatsby” badass. A cool cat who was powerful, but whose theatrics and ego would tend to get in the way of what he was trying to do. He would go on to become public enemy #1 in France, and in 2008, there were two amazing films released about the man, both starring Cassel as the titular lead.

There was Mesrine: Killer Instinct, and then the follow up, Mesrine: Public Enemy #1, both of which are remarkable films. They mark the rise to power, arrest, and breakout(s) of the French gangster, and it is entirely a vehicle for Vincent Cassel to show off just how captivating, and at times, intimidating, he can be. And though I may love both films, I much prefer Killer Instinct, because it is incredible to see how Mesrine came into power, and honestly, the prison breakout scheme in the first Mesrine is one of my favorite prison breakouts in film history.

It seems to stupidly easy that it almost borders on asinine, but then you look it up and realize that Mesrine actually did escape in the way that was represented on film, and it only will further intrigue you about the real man that Cassel plays so well in these films.

The second film plays out more like an epic climax to the first film than it does its own film, but you will be grateful you get to spend this much time with Vincent Cassel as Mesrine, because he injects so much life into the character, yet still manages, at times, to come across as vulnerable as well, which is an hard balance to attain for many actors, yet Cassel does it here so well. It is also an incredible evolution we get to witness across the course of these two films. Hell, it is worth seeing just for the simple history lesson about a badass you probably would have otherwise not known too much about.

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A Few Cassel Gems:

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I feel the need to mention Crimson Rivers, because it is a crime thriller that stars Vincent Cassel alongside Jean Reno (The Professional, ya’ll), and that is about as awesome as you get in terms of French crossover success. Both amazing actors who both deserve a lot more credit than they get, and both whom have cult followings here, but have MASSIVE followings and have gotten many awards and accolades in their native land.

Crimson Rivers is honestly barely worth bringing up, yet I am doing so because you get to see these two imports acting alongside one another, which makes it well worth the price of admission. Outside of that, it’s a relatively simple thriller, and not unlike anything you have seen before. The setting of the French Alps adds an element of natural beauty to the film that is undeniable. Check it out for yourself and see what you think.

Now this is the part where I might get some shit from you guys. I am going to recommend a Vincent Cassel movie that may alienate some people. It is a rather polarizing film called Sheitan. Sheitan is very much a sort of French Texas Chainsaw movie. Kids go to weird place with weird people and the weird people sort of terrorize them. But really, it is not that simple at all. I won’t spoil anything here, but this is a movie reliant SOLELY on the performance of Cassel, as well as the ending to the film.

I think when they made it they knew people would either love or hate the ending, but I think the ending was creepy as hell and really over-the-top, and I was one of the people who loved it. Shietan is worth seeing just to see the absolutely bat shit insane performance that Vincent Cassel delivers as the insane patriarch of the film, Joseph. He also plays Joseph’s wife, and makes the ugliest, scariest female you will ever see, as the above picture clearly displays. It is the kind of movie you need to consume drugs before watching, and one of those films that I am sure Vincent Cassel himself wouldn’t bring up if he was doing a career retrospective, but when someone plays “batshit insane,” and plays it so well that it is believable, even in its insanity, that is when I need to give some props.

Speaking of bat shit insane, I, myself, still need to see Vincent Cassel in Doberman, but from what I hear, it redefines batshit insane and as you can tell from how many times I used the term in this article, that is something I am a BIG fan of. Also, a quick shout out for his performance in Eastern Promises. I don’t think he got enough screen time, to be honest, but a few of the back-and-forth scenes with Viggo Mortensen were utterly captivating.

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What’s Next For Vincent Cassel:

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A French version of Beauty and the Beast, set to drop in 2014, may sound like the lamest thing ever, but if you know ANYTHING about French movies and ANYTHING about Vincent Cassel, and it is safe to say this telling of this classic tale could be a bit messed up and worth looking into.

The Danny Boyle thriller with Cassel called Trance is available in some areas on-demand right now, and though I expected more from both Danny Boyle AND Vincent Cassel working together (the thought of the pairing, before I had seen the movie, was definite source for a movie boner, so there is no way they would have been able to live up to it), Trance is still a well-crafted thriller, and worth seeing for the scene when Cassel has only half a face. I had to include the pic up there because it was too cool not to share, and anyone who wants to tell me it is a spoiler, that shot is in the trailer, so I don’t have any guilt.

In short, if you haven’t done so already, you need to check out Vincent Cassel’s amazing filmography. I think you will find that he really is one of the under-appreciated gems of modern acting.

The fact that I just called him a “gem” may really undermine all two-thousand words that came before it.

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