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"Mesrine: Killer Instinct" is the first movie of a two-part saga on real-life gangster Jacques Mesrine. The second part is called "Mesrine: Public Enemy #1". I saw both of them in the theaters, and was blown away. I didn't know contemporary French cinema could actually make good (and serious) gangster movies. Well now it's done.
In real life, Jacques Mesrine is certainly the most famous gangster in France along with Albert Spaggiari whose life and criminal activities are also astonishing, and whose anti-hero Robin-Hood-like status in popular opinion is as strong. Naturally, both of these gangsters' heists and feats have been adapted on screen numerous times, in fairly disappointing movies, but "Mesrine: Killer Instinct" (let's just call it "Mesrine") is to this date the only film about one of these gangsters which truly is good and may actually stand the test of time. I don't think there will be another movie about Mesrine in a while, because it will be hard to top this one.
All you need to know about the plot is that it's about a real-life gangster known for his heists and numerous prison escapes, which made him a sort of cult anti-hero. Vincent Cassel as a rebel Mesrine with a strong personality is obviously great, as are all the main actors, who were already famous in francophone cinema and with reason. The movie follows Mesrine's adventures in Algeria, France, Spain, Quebec and the USA, making it a fun ride. It briefly addresses political issues of the Algerian War, Quebec independence and living conditions in federal prisons, making it somewhat of a historical film. The political issue actually culminates in the second part of the saga when Mesrine, in an attempt to glorify his image, tries to justify his actions with political strife, although truthfully he's just a very talented thief. The movie's pace is interesting throughout, and we get to see the first half of a gangster's life unravel as his notoriety gets stronger. I do have one criticism : the movie sometimes skips scenes important to the plot. In one scene he's about to rob a bank, and in the next he's in prison. There are many more examples like this throughout the movie and it's somewhat frustrating. I guess the filmmakers didn't feel it was necessary to show how he was caught, or they didn't have the budget, but I would have preferred 10 minutes more of film for a clearer continuity.
Some commentators have accused "Mesrine" of ripping off American gangster films. I personally fail to see how. This movie has a very French feeling to it, it's more raw and realistic, it doesn't rely on a majestic soundtrack, dark cinematography, or mobster stereotypes, the likes of "The Godfather", "The Untouchables", "Goodfellas", "Road to Perdition", "The Departed" or others. I love these American films which are all original in their own way, and "Mesrine"'s approach is just as different as each of these great films. I'd be more willing to compare "Mesrine" with another more recent (and great) French gangster film, "A Prophet", which bears the same typical French or European style.
Anyway, "Mesrine: Killer Instinct" is a great gangster film which I recommend to all. I prefer it to it's second part "Mesrine: Public Enemy #1" but one should see both of them.
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