Dubbed “the French Scarface”, Mesrine is the true story of a notorious French chappy, famed for bank robbing, kidnapping, prison breaks and being public enemy number one. Split across two films, the first, “Killer Instinct”, features life before the esteemed title of Public Enemy, and focuses on Mesrine’s back story. He’s a right charmer, following a stint in the army to woo ladies, make money on the side, and slowly seep into a life of organised crime with a few forays into the straight life inbetween.
The shining glory of this is lead Vincent Cassel (who’s popped up in good films like Eastern Promises, and shite films like Ocean’s Twelve). Remarkably gorgeous despite odd features, Cassel oozes cheeky charm and spikes it with flashes of insane violence to create a character who is likeable and frightening at the same time. My knowledge of French criminals is sparse, and to avoid spoiling the second instalment I have restrained my research into Jacques Mesrine, although note with curiosity that the film is based on a book that he himself wrote. Whether he twisted true events to be more exciting, or to portray him as a sexy devil, is unknown at present, and I’m certainly looking forward to finding out more once I’ve completed the film duo.
The film is in Goodfellas territory, with linear story telling, elongated running time and the highs and lows of the life of crime, but melds in some brutal prison time (they don’t make prisons like they used to) and some rather exciting if not a little silly gun battles. But with the excellence of Cassel in front of the camera, and the sparky direction of Jean-Francois Richet steering the show, Mesrine erupts as a fresh, thrilling piece.
The decision to split the film into two is one I can only judge after catching the second part (released in a couple of weeks), as is the extent to which we explore Mesrine’s psyche, which was covered in some depths in this instalment but has definite room for further exposition. But as a standalone piece, Mesrine: Killer Instinct is engaging, exciting and well-paced enough to climb to a CF2. Bring on the second part, is all I can say.