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MESRINE: KILLER INSTINCT

Director: JEAN-FRANÇOIS RICHET

FRANCE-CANADA • 2008 • SUBTITLED • COLOUR • ANAMORPHIC • DIGITAL • 113 MIN.


VINCENT CASSEL TEARS UP THE SCREEN IN THIS PULSATING GANGSTER CHRONICLE, WHICH PAYS HOMAGE TO THE CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD CRIME FLICKS OF THE EARLY ’70s — BUT WITH AN EXTRA SHOT OF BADASS GALLIC ATTITUDE.

Downright notorious in his native France, bank robber and prison escapee extraordinaire Jacques Mesrine led such a wildly excessive life that it has taken two separate films, an all-star cast and a Ä45 million budget to pack it all in. This first instalment opens with Mesrine’s still-controversial assassination by undercover police in late 1979, before whisking us back to its subject’s formative army years in Algeria — an experience which left him familiar with firearms, jobless on his return home, and furnished with an abiding contempt for authority. While Cassel’s electric presence is always centre stage, Gerard Depardieu is in imposing form too as the Paris crime lord who hands this young upstart a few lessons in loyalty and ruthlessness before internecine carnage — and the galvanising effect of gun-toting femme fatale Cecile de France — send Mesrine’s nefarious career into its international phase.

Director Jean-François Richet knows his William Friedkin movies inside out and puts the pedal to the floor as the story barrels through the years. It’s an exhilarating ride with no shortage of incident (the whole section in Quebec’s toughest prison might have made a movie on its own), yet it’s no slavish imitation. Cassel’s protagonist is swaggering, charismatic, but also capable of the sort of cold brutality Hollywood simply couldn’t countenance from its leading men. Mesrine’s contradictions compel, and part two can’t come soon enough. — Trevor Johnston.

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