Mesrine: Killer Instinct is the first part in the two part explosive biopic of legendary and almost mythical French gangster, Jacques Mesrine. In what is his easily his best performance to date, Vincent Cassel embodies the famous French gangster and injects into the film a sense of charisma and energy that makes for a very enjoyable and memorable French gangster flick.
In this riveting and often gritty and brutal crime drama, director Jean-Francois Richet takes us through Mesrine’s criminal career and attempts to show us a man who was considered a public hero by some, but a dangerous psychopath by others.
The film opens up with Mesrine meeting his end but it quickly flashes back to show us Mesrine in the late 1950’s where he’s busy serving in the French army during the Algerian War. It is here that the film suggests that some of the atrocities Mesrine is forced to participate in, helped turn him into the man he became.
After he returns from the war, Mesrine almost instantly turns his eye toward the criminal underworld and he becomes involved with some French gangsters including Paul (Gilles Lellouche) and crime boss Guido (Gerard Depardieu). We are then treated to a a series of scenes detailing Mesrine’s criminal career. Almost episodic in nature, the film jumps around quickly. It sort of picks up here and leaves off there. The episodes are compelling and entertaining but the film doesn’t flow.
We see Mesrine robbing banks, murdering people, and causing general mischief and mayhem. Somewhere along the way he gets married to his girlfriend Sofia (Elena Anaya) but it ends quickly after she leaves him because of his violent nature. Eventually the heat gets to be too much in France and he runs away to Quebec where he becomes romantically involved with the Bonnie to his Clyde, Jeanne Schneider (Cecile De Dupuis). It’s at this point that the movie settles down and the pacing becomes more fluid.
The first half of the film jumps around too frequently. It seems as if the filmmakers are trying to cram too much into the film and it feels a bit uneven at parts.
Things feel like they’re being left out and the film comes off as disjointed and awkward at points. So much is being packed into the movie that it rarely gets a chance to catch its breath and reflect on or show the implications of what has happened. There are never any moments where we get to see any psychology or character development. We never get a look inside Mesrine’s head and he remains as more of an enigmatic character. Because of this, the film comes off feeling superficial at times.
Luckily, once Mesrine gets to Quebec, the plot feels more full and seamless. It’s not as episodic and it feels perfect. Despite the fact that the first half feels a bit uneven, there is never a boring moment in the film. It’s exciting and action packed with almost every scene.
Vincent Cassell is electrifying in his role as Mesrine. Convincing and haunting, he brings a astonishing realism to the role and gives a tour de force performance. With every scene he fully captures your attention. He so fluently switches gears from charming and suave to cold blooded and ruthless and his performance is really phenomenal.
The rest of the cast does a great job as well. Gerard Depardieu stands out as the crime boss Guido and it’s a shame he doesn’t have a bigger role. Also giving a great performance is Roy Dupuis who plays Jean-Paul Mercier, Mesrine’s sidekick in Quebec.
Director Jean Francois Richet does superb work behind the camera as he takes a page from various Hollywood directors like Michael Mann and Brian De Palma. He drives the film forward with a high energy and makes sure there’s never a dull moment. The action scenes are all very well staged and they create the appropriate amount of tension.
Highlights include a prison break scene which is truly intense and a standoff with some cops that is absolutely thrilling and very well shot. The music accompanies the action perfectly and Richet crafts a stylish and effective gangster film. I know this has been said before but it’s true, this film is everything that the disappointing Public Enemies should have been.
Jacques Mesrine was a man who disregarded social mores and did what he wanted. He was a troubled man and the film doesn’t shy away from the violence and brutality that surrounded his life. The film is certainly not for the light hearted as it probes into some dark areas. The no holds barred approach that Richet takes is much appreciated and it adds to the gritty and real feel that the film has.
Perhaps the worst thing that can be said about the film is that it ends too soon. The 2 hour runtime flies by and at the end you’re left wanting more. Mesrine: Killer Instinct sets the stage very nicely for part two and will certainly have audiences coming back for another dose of the famed French killer.
Mesrine: Killer Instinct is a triumphant gangster film. It's exhilarating throughout thanks to a masterful performance by Vincent Cassel and some expertly staged action scenes. Comparing this one to Goodfellas would not be a stretch.