Review: Mesrine (Both Parts)
Disappointed by Public Enemies? Put to sleep by American Gangster? Well, this is the gangster flick for you. Where recent Hollywood gangster sagas have floundered, Mesrine kicks serious ass. Eat your hearts out, Denzel and Johnny… Vincent Cassel is the fucking man. Mesrine’s story is told in two installments. The first (Killer Instinct) chronicles his rise, with the second (Public Enemy No. 1) covering his inevitable fall.
Mesrine (that’s pronounced May-Reen for you uncultured Americans like myself) is an uncompromising portrayal of the gangster, never glamorizing his work. He’s a terrible father and an even worse husband. Throughout the breakneck pacing of the Killer Instinct’s rather episodic structure, you grow to hate the hero in many scenes. Yet there are moments when he charms you with his wit, determination and the way he always stays true to his word. This is all achieved without an annoying voiceover that attempts to bring an unnecessary flow to the collection of brilliantly staged scenes.
Unlike what Michael Mann did with John Dillinger in Public Enemies, director Jean-Francois Richet is kind enough to let us inside the mind of Mesrine. Granted, the four total hours of runtime doesn’t hurt his cause. We learn what really makes him tick and what makes him so damn alluring to the many women in his life. Mesrine’s mild nature was broken during his time in the military, and that rush he gets from holding a gun in his hand has stuck with him ever since.
Vincent Cassel has been a great actor for a very long time, but he is downright revelatory as Jacques Mesrine. He’s equal parts menacing and sexy, yet still convincingly sweet in those rare moments when the mood calls for it. Such swagger, such charisma… this is a showman’s performance, and Cassel is clearly having the time of his life in this role.
Mesrine miraculously bridges the gap between crime thriller and character study. Killer Instinct has everything you could ever want in a suspenseful action flick including the single greatest prison break scene ever filmed.
His four total escapes from maximum security prisons is the stuff of legend, each one more elaborate than the next. Jacques Mesrine has such balls that after robbing one bank, he would immediately walk across the street and to rob another.
Public Enemy No. 1 opens with Mesrine promising a police chief he’ll escape from prison within three months. Like I said, he’s a man of his word. He becomes public enemy number one and quite possibly the most famous Frenchman in the world. With a new partner in crime (played by Mathieu Amalric, the villain from Quantum of Solace) and a new woman on his arm, he’s not content just robbing banks. Mesrine wants to be a revolutionary, to tear the whole system apart.
Public Enemy No. 1 isn’t quite as good as Killer Instinct, but how could it be? The intense pacing is no longer there and the film feels less focused, more anecdotal and existential. Cassel, however, is just as brilliant. Mesrine’s arrogance gets the best of him as he becomes seemingly more concerned with his celebrity and legacy than simply staying alive.
The acting, score and vintage visual grain are all top-notch. Who could have ever seen this coming from Richet, who previously helmed the mediocre remake of Assault on Precinct 13?
If I had to recommend just one movie from 2010, it would probably still be Inception out of pity for all the great conversations you’ve been (and will be) missing out on. If I could choose two? It would be both parts of Mesrine. I don’t care that you have to spend twice the money to see this entire saga. It’s worth every penny.