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Mesrine: Killer Instinct

Film Five Stars
Vincent Cassel is a stunning actor, of that there is little doubt, he's hugely charismatic and can easily command the screen as well as pulling you right into his performance. If you haven't watched any of his films as yet then I suggest you start now with Death Instinct.

This film shows him portraying a man who reached nigh on legendary status in both France and Quebec, and was at one time labelled public enemy number one in his native France. The man is Jacques Mesrine, and Cassel's performance of him is mesmerising in a film that charts his arrival into a world of crime and his rise to become one of the most wanted men in France.

Plot.pngThe story is that of Jacques Mesrine, the French gangster that soon became known as Public Enemy Number 1, except that's not what this film is about, it's about the man who returns from serving with the French Army in Algeria and becomes the gangster that is Public Enemy Number 1.

TheFilm.pngThe film starts wonderfully, piling on the style while managing to set the focus for the entire two films. The opening titles inform us that no one story is totally the truth, and everything can be seen and told differently, and so we see the opening, and the closing, of the two films using split screen and multiple views of the moments leading to the possible end of Mesrine's life.

These different screens and shots view the same events from different angles or slightly out of sync, and quite quickly you'll notice that each of these shots is a little different to the other, with no two viewpoints showing exactly the same events. In one moment Mesrine exits the car and stands against a van removing his glasses, in the shot below he stands in the same spot and glances around nervously, and in another shot he does something a little different.

So the tone is set for the films, and stylishly we're told that this is based on the truth, but may not be the whole truth or the actual events. I loved the way the opening of the film reinforced the titles this way, and the title sequence had me hooked from the outset and it didn't let go of me either, building the tension and with a few false starts building up to a big moment, the story begins at the end.

The film manages to keep a similar pace throughout, driving the character of Mesrine forward and it continues to focus on him throughout the story keeping it dramatic and tense, never over complicating it by turning to other characters too much or trying to interpret his motivations and what makes him the person he is.

The story did leap at a few points, but then it was passing through the moments of the character's life which were a little less interesting, concentrating on the more dramatic and exciting moments. Otherwise it developed the characters and the story well and presented it throughout with plenty of style from all aspects including some great cinematography.

The violence and crimes increase in weight as the film pushes forward, and it's a rather interestingly portrayed level of increasing violence. We never suddenly feel that he's taken a huge leap upwards, instead the escalation of the character's intentions and the violence in the film are taken step by step, lifting the audience step by step with him, and it's not until the closing prison escape sequence and closing scenes that we realise just how far we've come and how violent the lead is, interestingly reflecting the opening quandary of the character in the Army.

Apart from being rather violent in places, and shockingly so in a few, the film is also surprisingly funny and touching. It can turn from being emotionally strong and even romantic, such as when Mesrine first sets eyes on his wife, through to uncontrolled violence as we see him turn straight back to crime after his attempts to go straight after prison fail miserably.

It also raises some interesting questions about the character, and perhaps the most relevant one is the question of whether he was an evil person through and through or was he made that way by the treatment he received from society, particularly from the prison system and the brutal and harsh treatment he received in some of the high security prisons in Quebec.

The script and film strives to make something more of the character than a thoroughly dislikeable gangster, and it does it really well without losing the realism. There's still a strong desire to connect with him rather than right him off, and a lot of that is down to Vincent Cassel and his thoroughly enigmatic performance.

Cassel is utterly superb and creates a very likeable character, even though he's a bad guy. There are the moments of him being a likeable and even lovable character, and then there are the wilder, more violent moments where we see what he's really capable of.

Yet while Cassel can play both these aspects really well, with the steely stare that gets you even through the screen, he can still capture your heart with some wonderful moments. The most emotional for me was when he returned to see his dying father in hospital and we see a moment of acceptance and forgiveness for some of the terrible things he's said and done.

What stuck me most about this scene was that it was meant to be Cassel's own father in the film but his untimely death added a new strength and meaning to the scene, and I think you can see that in Cassel's performance which is utterly heart breaking.

However combined with Gerard Depardeau we see the darker side of his character and he's chilling. The scene in the car with the Middle Eastern man is uncomfortable, scary and just plain menacing, and yet both characters still manage to inject a little bit of humour too.

Gérard Depardieu is excellent too, in fact all the supporting actors are, but Depardeau proves he's still a heavyweight of the big screen and that it's not just Cassel who can command the film, their scenes together are powerful and Cassel's on screen presence is dominated by the elder gangster.

Cécile De France has a strong role to play in the film too, even next to the screen eating Cassel, she gets some very powerful moments on screen, most especially the moments where she renounces him and turns to save them both.

Throughout the film the pace continues onwards, never really pausing, and throughout it all building the complexities of the lead character and piling on the crimes taking you with him on his journey to become Public Enemy Number 1, and yet all the while keeping the feel of who the character is rather than demonising him into something far too larger than life, and that's something that is made possible by Vincent Cassel.

Overall.pngI really enjoyed Mesrine: Killer Instinct as we'll call it for now, it delivered a strong and tension filled story that managed to make the lead character feel likeable as well as to show his dangerous and powerful side. It's slickly filmed and has a great style about it, one that matches the style of the main characters, and Vincent Cassel and Gerard Depardeau both excel in the film. It's great to watch, and I would recommend it.

However there are a few issues, and one flaw I found with it, and that was the fact that the story of Mesrine is split across two films, something that just cannot be avoided. Not only is it split between two films but the films receive different release dates and result in a period of time between the first and second half of the story.

With that the second half of the film is rather lengthy and feels as though it could well have been cut down by an hour or so bringing them together for a very long single film. However with the power of the first film, the story and the lead, I do believe that the audience would sit through a longer film to see the conclusion of this gripping thriller led by such powerful actors.

Still, it's a recommended film and I wouldn't want people not to see it. Just try and see them both together or wait till it gets a DVD release.

Filmstalker at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2009
Buy or Rent from Lovefilm
Buy from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
UK IMDB Film Details



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