Mesrine: Killer Instinct

August 13, 2009


The world of gangster movies is well and truly saturated with Hollywood offerings, some great, most generic and gratuitous. Mesrine: Killer Instinctfalls somewhere in between the two.

Following the life of the titular French criminal (who few outside of France and Canada will have heard of) it’s based on his own best-selling account of his life and exploits, putting him in the same category as other self-promoting crims like Charlie ‘Bronson’ Bronson and Mike ‘Chopper’Reid. It opens with an intertitle telling us that no film can truly capture the essence of a single man or the complexity of the human condition, and rams this point home through an effective if self-conscious opening sequence which uses multiple split images of the same action occurring from different angles and with slightly different takes being used in unison. It’s nice that the film reminds us that we’re watching a work of fiction, it’s just a pity that from then on it is shot like most other gangster biopics.

The viewer is treated with a lot of respect since there’s no expositional narration and time passes without the need for overt signposting, we just have to absorb the story and characters from what were shown. After a summer spent watching mindless blockbusters roll of the production line this kind of treatment is refreshing if indicative of the film’s French production. It is also rare to see a film which treats a gangster relatively objectively. Though Mesrine perpetrates many acts of violence his existence is never glorified, and the film style removes us from his world enough to permit proper judgement of his character. One thing he has by the bucketload is balls, and there are a couple of preposterous scenes of criminal daring which would be hard to believe were they not based in part on true events. The shoot-outs are handled with a Michael Mann-like flare and there are a couple of brutal scenes which may have you wincing. What slightly trips the film up is that so much happens, and there’s very little time spent lingering on the more formative moments of Mesrine’s life. Though on the other hand this might represent value for money…sort of.

Vincent Cassel is on top form as Mesrine, with his angular face, prominent features and crazed smile lurking beneath a thick moustache. There’s also strong support from Gerard Depardieu amongst others, and the period setting which shifts between the late 50s and early 70s is executed with seamless precision. Since this movie is part one of two I’ll have to give it a better going over once the second part’s out in a few weeks, but if you’re looking for an intriguing gangster picture with a lot going on then there’s nothing that’s come close to this for a while.

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One Response to “Mesrine: Killer Instinct”

  1. Jack Hurst Says:

    Its definately better than Public Enemies, which I guess is the closest thing to it currently out.


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