Aneesh Chaganty

Movie #194 Mesrine: Killer Instinct

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2011 at 5:03 AM

Movie #194 Mesrine: Killer Instinct

(2008, France, d. Jean-Francois Richet)

Killer Instinct is the first part of a two-part gangster epic about notorious French criminal Jacques Mesrine, based on an autobiography of the same name. Vincent Cassel plays Mesrine, the army-man turned public figure/gangster. Cassel plays Mesrine to a tee. He plays the role with the usual intensity of any Cassel performance, but here he manages to get the audience to sympathize with him. In a similar way we viewed Bonnie and Clyde from Bonnie & Clyde, for most of the film we are on Cassel’s side – not as much watching with awe as we are rooting for him to succeed. So in that way, it is more similar to the Arthur Penn film than it is to Scorcese’s earlier works, especially Goodfellas. We are first introduced to Mesrine as an army officer aiding in “forceful interrogations” during the French-Algerian War during the early 60’s. By the time he has tasted his first sense of power (coming from the shooting of an unarmed captive in the face), he will never be the same. Regular work doesn’t please him, so when his cousin asks him to help in some more “under the table” jobs, he accepts. From there, we watch as Mesrine climbs the ladders – in a sense. When he feels like he has learned enough, instead of trying to take over anything, he instead goes solo – another unique distinction from classic gangster film traits. He fails his marriage with his first wife – the only person he will probably genuinely love in the film (and in real life, I guess). From the objective perspective, Mesrine was a terrible person. When we finally come to think about how many people have been killed in the film, it’s ridiculous. But that’s also – purposively – the end of the film. Promising a part 2, Mesrine closes with a bang. Cassel shows no restraint as the fame-driven, attention-seeking “public enemy number one”. His fearless performance dictates the fearless Mesrine – not the other way around. At times a little episodic, in hindsight, I think the screenwriters were just trying to make a genuine effort to depict the man’s life honestly. I think it’s long due that Cassel gets his credit in mainstream Hollywood culture.

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