Mesrine:Killer Instinct Part 1 & 2

Starring Vincent Cassel, Cecile De France, Gerard Depardieu, Gilles Lellouche, Roy Dupuis, Elena Anaya, Florence Thomassin, Michel Duchaussoy;

MESRINE:  PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER. Part 2. Starring Vincent Cassel, Ludivine Sagnier, Mathieu Amalric, Gerard Lanvin, Samuel Le Bihan, Olivier Gourmet

Directed by Jean-Francois Richet. Part 1: 113 minutes; Part 2: 132 minutes.
Rated MA 15+ (Strong violence and sex scenes).

Jacques Mesrine (the s is silent and Mesrine became upset when people pronounced it wrongly) was a famous criminal in his time, the 1960s and 1970s in France and in Quebec, not a household name elsewhere.  However, Killer Instinct and its second part, Public Enemy Number 1 certainly put him in the cinema pantheon of crime celebrities.

The first film on Mesrine is called Killer Instinct after his own book.  The second film is Public Enemy Number One, the media headline for his career.  The first film covers the 1960s, the second the 1970s.  And each is quite different in its treatment of Mesrine and his career as well as the visual style and pacing.

The first film opens with a stakeout in 1979 and the death of Mesrine and his girlfriend, Sylvie, in a hail of bullets into their car (and there are other allusions to Bonnie and Clyde in the films).  It then goes back to Algeria 1959 where Mesrine is involved in questioning and torture of insurgents and shows his metal by shooting one of them on orders.  The second film ends with a longer reprise of the stakeout, the pursuit of Mesrine and Sylvie and the shooting.

For those who are interested in delving into the mentality of a criminal, the first film is the more rewarding.  For those who like action and the creation of legends, that is the task of the second film.

Vincent Cassell is ideal casting as Mesrine.  Over the years, Cassell has excelled at villains and creating an impression of evil – although he can show moments of tenderness as well as he does initially with his wife but does with his children.  He has said that he wanted to make Mesrine human but not show him as in any way a hero.

When Mesrine returns to his family from Algeria and the prospect of working in the lace business, he is more interested in the contacts his friend Paul has with the criminal world, especially gangster boss Guido (played with steely solemnity by a heavy Gerard Depardieu).

Soon involved in robberies, Mesrine angers police, challenges Guido who supports him – but the spree cannot last and Mesrine finds himself in prison.  But not for long.  After the first crimes, Mesrine and Paul travel to Spain and meet up with some young women and Mesrine marries.  But he is too moody and violently dominating for it to last.  However, he is devoted to his daughter.

An encounter with a charmingly tough woman with criminal intentions, he forms his own small gang, always with the police after him.  He finds they have to move to Montreal.

Mesrine, Public Enemy Number One has a different tone from the first part.  It is full of exploits.  At first, undercover as a building worker, he becomes friends with a fellow worker and involved in robbery.  X gets a job for them both with a wealthy entrepreneur.  Mesrine becomes indignant when he is treated as a mere servant and virtually abducts the man.  When he and X are caught, he is imprisoned – but once again shows his flair for escaping.  On his return to France, he is something of a big time criminal hot shot and plays up to this reputation, abetted by the media.  In prison again, he encounters a criminal (Matthieu Amalric) and is soon on the loose again.

Mesrine is both self-confident and rather vain in his celebrity status and enjoys defying the police who are intent on his arrest.  As we know from the outset, they do get him in a hail of bullets, a later Gallic version of the American gangsters of the Depression era.

More than effectively made, a most persuasive performance from Vincent Cassell and an immersion in a criminal world.

Palace  Part 1 out December 26   Part 2 out January 7

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

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