Skip to main content

Mesrine: Killer Instinct

It is tough to be a gangster. Sure, the life can be glamorous and filled with excitement if you are really good at what you do, but as one character informs the audience in Mesrine: Killer Instinct (directed by Jean-Francois Richet), the best you can hope for is to be able to run a nice bar in your golden years. Even that character doesn’t make it to the end of the movie.

Vincent Cassel plays Jacques Mesrine, a Robin Hood like figure whose criminal career apparently became legendary in his native France. Like all gangsters, he started small and climbed his way up. After returning from Algeria where he was a soldier, he decides to follow his criminal friend Paul (Gilles Lellouche) around instead of taking a job from his father. He becomes a crafty burglar and gets the attention of a local mob boss called Guido (Gerard Depardieu). At first Mesrine is not intimated by a man he sees as inferior because of his age, but he should mind his sidearm since the old man is still a good pickpocket. Guido gives him some valuable life lessons and valuable protection. Life is good and it is getting better.

From burglary Mesrine graduates to bank robbery. He is not infallible since he is eventually caught, causing a strain on his domestic life. His wife wants him to quit his job or else she will run away and takes the kids. He tries for a while, but old habits die hard.

As Mesrine grows bolder, he robs from the wrong people and even Guido cannot protect him. He flees France and tries his luck in Quebec, Canada. With his new girlfriend Jeanne Schneider (Cécile de France) he becomes a headline sensation after kidnapping a millionaire and going on the run all the way to Arizona. The papers love them and paint them as the new Bonnie and Clyde. At the airport in Montreal, they smile at the crowd as though they were movie stars and in the heat of the moment Mesrine says to the cameras: “Vive le Québec libre” (Free Quebec). I am pretty sure General de Gaule had beaten him to the punch by a few years, but that statement probably gave him some new fans.

Unfortunately his fame leads him to a prison whose guards could have given the warden at Guantanamo Bay a few tips on how to torture prisoners. He is routinely beaten, gassed, hosed, blinded by the ceiling light, and deafened by a blaring siren. The guards were apparently trying to attack all five of his senses since of course the food seemed barely eatable at best.

Once back with the general population he finds a friend he met outside, Jean-Paul Mercier a member of the FLQ (Front de Libération du Québec) played by Roy Dupuis. Together they hatch a daring plan to escape, which is both amazing in its simplicity and boldness. The best however comes when Mesrine and Mercier decide to try break back into the prison in order to help others escape. No wonder he became public enemy number 1: he must have been the only criminal crazy enough to attack a prison in broad daylight with nothing but a pickup truck and two assault rifles.    

Despite all his fame and flash, the movie does not paint Mesrine as a hero. He is in it for the money and will cause harm to anyone who gets in his way. The way he treats his wife when she threatens to rat him out to the police even disgusts Guido. He could have indulged her and quit his life of crime, but it is clear that he enjoyed it too much.

As far as gangster movies goes, Mesrine: Killer Instinct could probably rank somewhere between Scarface and Carlito’s Way. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but knows which way it spins.


Popular posts from this blog

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #70: Stand by Me

Another clear influence on Stranger Things, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me (1986) portrays American kids from a lost era in which they could go on an adventure away from home. Nowadays if children go missing for more than an hour parents try to locate them using cell phone apps, but in the story written by Stephen King four boys in 1959 Oregon go walking in the woods during a long weekend to look for, of all things, a dead body. Their lives are sometimes at risk, they have no way of communicating with their parents, but they will definitely have a story to remember for the rest of their lives.
For many North Americans adults this movie fondly reminded them of a time in their childhood despite the inherent danger. Not so for me since, first of all, there was no time in my childhood when I could possibly go out of the house for more than three hours without my mom getting in her car to go look for me. The there is the fact that I spent a good chunk of my childhood living in Chile and Peru, an…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #77: Spartacus

Spartacus (1960) is an interesting movie in Stanley Kubrick's filmography because it doesn’t really feel like a Stanley Kubrick movie. I don’t exactly know why, but his signature style doesn’t seem to be present unlike in classics such as The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, or Dr. Strangelove. It does however feel like one of those big sword-and-sandals epics in which you have British thespians acting as Roman politicians with the occasional big battle sequence. In that respect it is spectacular and features Kirk Douglas at his best as the titular hero.
The story of the rebel slave Spartacus has inspired a bloody and sexy TV series (so far unseen by me, but I hear it’s great) and the story behind how it was made is one of those cases of life imitating art. The Bryan Cranston film Trumbo tells how screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted in Hollywood during the 1950s for his communist beliefs and had to rebel against the system by writing screenplays for cheap movies under a fake nam…

Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #79: The Thin Red Line

I once saw an interview in which Christopher Plummer said that what Terrence Malick needs is a writer. He was referring to his experience shooting The New World, which saw his role considerably reduced. The same happened to a much greater extent with Malick’s war movie The Thin Red Line (1998), which saw the screen time of many movie stars reduced to mere minutes amid a 170-minute running time. However you have to hand it to the guy: he knows how to make anything look beautiful, including the carnage of war.
Malick’s movie came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, so I think that year I had my fill of ultra violent war films and was no too interested in seeing it. Sixteen years later I finally caught up to it on Netflix, but in hindsight the big screen might have been a better option since this is a very visual story. The plot is pretty loose, following one American soldier and sometimes some of his brothers in arms as they make their way through World War II in the Pacific theat…