The two Mesrine movies are easily the best gangster movies of the last years and can without a doubt be described as the French Godfathers even though the two films have not exactly the same class as the legendary masterpieces.
The thing that is really interesting about this movie is that it is told after true events and partially based on the autobiography of the French gangster and public enemy number one Jacques Mesrine. The movie makes very clear that one can't develop much sympathy for the character but his radical way of life, his brutal honesty and his strong and dangerous emotions surely create a very addicting, explosive and unique character.The first movie tells his life from his actions during the Algerian War up to his escape from a prison in Quebec.
The character is introduced in a very interesting way. One witnesses his first theft, his first murder as well as his first escapes from prison but also how he gets into the crime scene, how he gets to know his second wife and how he gets along as his role as a father of three children with her. Mesrine always chooses the craziest, most radical and often most selfish way to escape from his problems. This movie is not just a gangster saga filled with action and tension but has also an emotional touch of the drama genre and some dark and sarcastic humour.
Mesrine is perfectly portrayed by one of the best contemporary actors coming from France which is Vincent Cassel. Roy Dupuis plays the very charismatic Canadian terrorist and Mesrine's âme soeur Jean-Paul Mercier. The French acting crème de la crème appears in this first part of the legacy. Cécile de France plays Mesrine's future girlfriend and partner in crime that finally decides to chose the path of freedom and justice. Gérard Depardieu plays the intelligent gangster boss Guido. Ludivine Sagnier portrays Mesrine's latest girlfriend and excels in her role as a superficial blonde with fixations on a bourgeoisie lifestyle. The acting of this movie is really stunning and every actor plays his or her role close to perfection.
The movie also discusses topics such as love, friendship, treason, loyalty, respect and more in a very intense way and how Mesrine feels about it. He is a very extreme personality and some of his actions contradict what he has already done or will do in the future and this shows how fragile this gangster really is.
The greatness of this movie does not stop there. The part of the movie when Mesrine is put into a French Canadian prison is very intense. It is not only well filmed with interesting camera positions and cold, touching decorations but reminds me of legendary prison movies such as "Papillon" or "The Shawshank Redemption" and contains some well hidden but intense criticism. Mesrine's escape from prison eventually led to the closure of those inhuman French Canadian prisons and this movie shows us the way of life in this hell in a very intense way. The movie also slightly criticizes the corruptive justice and police in France as well as the way how the medias deal with Mesrine's fate and make an iconic modern Robin Hood out of a dangerous and ignorant gangster that begins to use the medias for his own good and enjoys the show.
As you can see, the movie contains many different elements and details that make it a very diversified, intense and still entertaining gangster movie which happens to be one of the best of its kind. If you like "The Godfather", "Once Upon A Time In America", "Papillon" and "The Shawshank Redemption" you should definitely check this masterpiece out. If you happen to like this movie, you should absolutely try to get the German gangster and terrorist movie "Der Baader-Meinhof-Komplex" which is also based on true events and happened at the same time as Mesrine became the public enemy number one in France. The French movie has also some connections to those events as Mesrine talks from time to time about it as you should have noticed.
In the end, this movie about an extreme and charismatic character is way more than an excellent gangster movie with some social criticism but a gripping two hours of history class.
The only reason why I didn't give the highest possible note is that I would have liked to learn more about the youth of Mesrine. For example, the movie didn't show us his very first wife and how he quit her to go to the Algerian War. It didn't show us how he got honoured by the French government and military for his heroic actions during wartime. It didn't show us how he got caught the first time during a bank theft and how he dealt with it. Those little elements could have made the character even more intense, profound and interesting but a part of that, there is really nothing negative about this amazing movie.
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