Every once in a while a part comes along that is cast so well it's as if the actor was born to play and will forever be remembered for that role. Vincent Cassels portrayal of Frances public enemy number one, Jacques Mesrine, is one such role. Funny, disturbing, charming, psychotic and more Cassel is the larger than life criminal achieving a completely believable character study of someone the French press dubbed 'the man of a thousand faces' due to his ability to change his looks so often to evade the police. In fact the truth behind this most notorious of stories is so unbelievable at times that the filmmakers left parts out thinking the audience would think it was just too far fetched, in fact after watching the escapades of Mesrine I too thought 'all that couldn't have happened surely?' But after a little bit of homework I found that it did indeed all take place and after seeing the tale unfold you realise why Mesrine got his Monika. The film, told in two parts, opens with a brilliant seventies cop style feel and begins at the end before returning us to the start where we see a young Mesrine in the army fighting in the Algerian war, on his return to his native Paris he quickly becomes entangled with Guido a mafia boss played superbly by Gerard Depardieu (why had no one cast him in this kind of role before?) and over the course of the next four thrilling hours he rises to become the career criminal that became an embarrassment to the French police and government. Shot all grainy and washed out with an amazing attention to detail we follow Mesrine from bank robberies to kidnap, general violence to daring prison escapes and in a complete juxtaposition we see the family man, the charmer and the comedian. Hailed by some as a kind of Robin Hood figure the film never judges either way and gives you enough information for you to make up your own mind but of course with a figure so complex it's hard when the lines blur. He obviously loves his children doting on them in one scene but in another he smashes a glass in a man's face and beats and leaves a journalist for dead after he wrote a disparaging article about him. What doesn't help is that a lot of what happens is taken from the book Mesrine wrote in prison 'Killer Instinct' a work that he himself has said was slightly exaggerated to make him seen more notorious than he actually was. Overall though the film is a thrill ride from start to finish and can hold its own with any of the great gangster epics. Stylish, violent and gob smacking, it's a must see and with the immersive bravado of Cassel as Mesrine this film will be one that will be held in high esteem for some time to come.
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