Written by: Abdel Raouf Dafri
Directed by: Jean Francois Richet
Starring: Vincent Cassel, Cecile de France, Gerard Depardieu
On it’s release in France last December, Mesrine: Part One – Killer Instinct grossed an incredible €18,000,000, pushing a certain High School Musical 3 completely out of the box office equation. Telling the story of France’s most notorious gangland superstar Jacques Mesrine, Killer Instinct has garnered huge praise in its home country and has been wowing festival audiences on the international stage.
Killer Instinct begins as so many biopics begin, with the main characters death scene. Mesrine notoriously died in his car under a hail of bullets from unknown assassins on a busy Paris street in 1979. It then skips backwards to Jacques as a soldier in the Algerian War. The sequence, while a little out of place is a great starting point in getting to know this very complex character. After his return to France, Mesrine soon becomes involved in the swinging sixties decadence of Paris and the sinister underworld that comes with it. It is clear that he has a certain moral greyness to him and also a quick-witted resourcefulness that moves him quickly up the ladder.
After a whirlwind romance, he marries a beautiful young Spanish girl and they quickly start a family. This prompts a brief attempt at trying to go straight, but Jacques quickly returns to his criminal gang and any romantic notions of being a husband and father are soon blown away.
The action moves to Quebec, Canada in the third act where Jacques and his new flame Jeanne (Cecile de France) get in most spectacular trouble with the law. The film’s denouement brings the audience through one of cinema’s most memorable prison escapes, memorable in its simplicity and audacity.
It is difficult not to compare this to Michael Mann’s recent Public Enemies but this is not an exercise in style as Mann’s film was. Although visually engaging, this film does not get bogged down in being “cool”. The film is concerned only with bringing the audience into the murky world of Jacques Mesrine and the film attempts the very difficult task of making us understand this vicious, heartless, romantic, arrogant, self-obsessed, sensitive gangster.
The cast is flawless. Each character is memorably played, especially the women in Jacques’ life. Vincent Cassel puts in the performance of his career (and that’s no easy task for an actor as accomplished as he) as Jacques Mesrine. The film clocks in at just over two hours and it is one of the most intense, exciting and brutal pieces of cinema you’ll see all year.
The film ends as Mesrine is just becoming the notorious superstar he eventually rose to be. With much of the story left to be told, the filmmakers leave us panting for more. Luckily there is not a huge gap in the release dates between movies.
Mesrine has universal appeal. It is not just a genre piece. It is an exciting, action-packed examination of a truly fascinating man. With flawless performances and unrelenting pace, Killer Instinct should have you hooked from the first scene to the last.
- Charlene Lydon 21/8/09