The name Jacques Mesrine didn’t mean anything to me until this film came along, but he’s an icon to the French, a criminal superstar who boasted a gift for self-publicity that matched his talent for robbing banks. What John Dillinger was to the US in the 1930s, Mesrine was to France (and, for a spell, Canada) in the 1970s – Public Enemy No. 1.
Vincent Cassel, bad boy of French cinema, is suitably charismatic, volatile and dangerous in the lead role of Mesrine: Killer Instinct – the first half of director Jean-François Richet’s epic two-part biopic (the second, Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1, opens at the end of the month). The movie kicks off with Mesrine’s bloody demise in 1979 at the hands of a special police hit squad (an act that’s still highly controversial in France) and then tracks back 20 years to show the start of his criminal career following brutalising service with the French army in Algeria.
Cassel dominates the film, but there’s colourful support from Gérard Depardieu, who appears as Mesrine’s gangster mentor, a shady figure linked to right-wing terror group the OAS, and from Cécile de France, who pops up later as Mesrine’s girlfriend (the Bonnie to his Clyde) at the time of his Canadian crime spree in the late-1960s, during which he staged a spectacular escape from the infamous Saint-Vincent-de-Paul prison. We know how it all ended for Mesrine, of course, but we’ll need to wait for the movie’s second half to see how his criminal exploits turned out in the 1970s.
On general release from 7th August.
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