Monday, 7 March 2011


Mesrine: Killer Instinct is the story of Jacques Mesrine (pronounced Mayreen) one of the most notorious gangsters in French recent history. Having been raised by a relatively loving family, he rebels and becomes a small time crook. With the help of mob-boss Guido, he becomes more confident. Eventually, though, he is captured by police, repeatedly, and repeatedly escapes from prison; even a maximum security prison. By this time we see that Mesrine is very influential, able to manipulate people on the outside to help him escape (even his lawyer), as well as bribing/manipulating guards to make his stay in prison more comfortable. Finally the police officer who is primarily trying to bring Mesrine to justice, is able to trap the gangster in traffic in Paris, and Jacques is shot dead.

The film is told in two parts, each beginning at the end, with the death of Mesrine. I left it quite a long time between viewing the first and second films, so I can't specifically remember if there was a clear theme to each. Thinking about it, I think the first film was really charting the rise of Mesrine, his influences, and ideas; whereas the second film rather concentrates on his influence and how powerful he has become on his way to being public enemy number 1.

Obviously being a gangster he is not a particularly nice fellow! He is particularly hostile to women, though he doesn't seem to be able to do without them. In the first film he does marry and have children, but eventually abuses his wife (more verbally than physically I think), and abandons them. He goes through various prostitutes, until he meets a girl who fall in love with him, though this doesn't stop him from being fairly rotten to her. All of this makes it hard to empathise with the character; like I say, he is a gangster, but being the main character there needs to be some emotional connection to watch him for 210 minutes.

The main reason to watch him for that long is Vincent Cassel. He is tremendous. He owns every scene. When he laughs his whole face lights up, but when he's angry he really has a look that could kill! From his performance it seems like he thoroughly enjoyed making the film. All of the performances from Mesrine's partners in crime along the way are also always very good, perhaps most notably by Mathieu Amalric as François Besse, the inmate who helps Mesrine escape from the maximum security wing of one of the prisons; and Gérard Depardieu as the mob boss Guido.

A very enjoyable film without doing anything fancy. Director Jean-François Richet is creative, but not outstanding (there was a very cool shot of Mesrine's getaway car having been hit side on; as it spun round we were inside, outside, spinning, inside, outside!) It sometimes gets a bit repetitive, as another bank is robbed, but Vincent Cassel is always highly watchable, and it can be difficult to tear your eyes away however nasty Mesrine is being.