I have been eagerly awaiting the DVD release of the saga of notorious French criminal Jacque Mesrine! Branded his country's Public Enemy No. 1 for his international exploits during the sixties and seventies, Mesrine's notoriety brought him a certain celebrity status. With murders, bank heists, kidnappings, and bold prison breaks--Mesrine embraced his lawlessness with a flair and flamboyance that have maintained his cult appeal even thirty years after his death. Adapting Mesrine's own memoir, writer/director Jean-Francois Richet has divided Mesrine's escapades into two feature films. This one--"Mesrine: Killer Instinct"--charts his initiation into a gangster existence and his rise to worldwide attention while the follow-up "Mesrine: Public Enemy #1" charts the end stages of his criminal career. "Killer Instinct," in fact, ends quite abruptly and will certainly feel incomplete without its second half. So be prepared for a two-parter because you'll want to see this tale through to its bitter finale!
In "Killer Instinct," we meet a young Mesrine (the always reliable Vincent Cassel) as he is exiting a morally ambiguous post in the Army and starting a fresh life. He hungers for an excitement and payday, however, that the straight life can't provide. An old friend introduces him to a local mob boss Gerard Depardieu and soon he discovers where his true talent lies. Trying to balance a family normalcy proves difficult, though, giving way to Mesrine taking on a full ownership of his criminal enterprise. Embarking on a Bonnie and Clyde adventure in Canada with girlfriend Jeanne Schneider (Cécile de France), the two make waves when a daring kidnapping goes awry. And as they meet their fate in the aftermath of this event, the movie truly kicks into high gear. One sequence, outside a Canadian penitentiary, is as exciting and unpredictable as anything you're likely to see in a thriller! In whole, the film is a bold exercise in crime melodrama.
The film, however, is episodic by nature. We don't truthfully get to know much about Mesrine as the screenplay never delves into his psychology. We are forced to understand him through his actions as opposed to his thoughts--and this does leave a central aloofness that is undeniable. Thankfully, Cassel powers through this performance with an unexpected charm, a surprising intelligence, and an unrelenting brutality. Certainly Mesrine was a beast in many ways, but he had an appeal that held people in thrall. Cassel is a perfect blend of these disparate elements and his performance ignites like a powder keg in the film's most pivotal moments. Left with a somewhat superficial look at his bad deeds, the film doesn't deliver a lot of emotional attachment (I understand that certain dramatic elements ramp up in the second part). But for purely visceral thrills and a dynamic lead, you can't deny that "Killer Instinct" is a well crafted and thoroughly entertaining biography! Cue part two! KGHarris, 2/11.