'Mesrine' brings French criminal to life

Vincent Cassel is a dynamoas celebrity criminal JacquesMesrine, whose story unfolds from his 1979 death. Gilles Lellouche (right) plays a henchman.
Vincent Cassel is a dynamoas celebrity criminal JacquesMesrine, whose story unfolds from his 1979 death. Gilles Lellouche (right) plays a henchman.
Posted: August 27, 2010

Hey, after we're finished robbing this bank, and the alarm's going off, and the police sirens are getting louder, and everybody's down on the floor scared to death, let's cross the street and rob that bank over there, too. OK?

Bien sur!

In Mesrine: Part 1 - Killer Instinct, the real-life career criminal Jacques Mesrine is seen in all his wild, scary, violent glory. Based on a memoir that France's celebrity baddie scribbled behind bars before one of his famous escapes, Mesrine, from director Jean-François Richet, is an exhilarating old-school crime pic. This first of two parts doesn't exactly romanticize its pistol-packin' protagonist, but it doesn't condemn him, either.

Opening with a series of kinetic split-screen shots that strut with Peckinpahian cool, Mesrine starts at the end: the notorious outlaw, with decades of lootin' and shootin' in Europe and North America to his credit, gunned down by police in broad daylight on a Paris street.

It's 1979, and from there Richet ricochets backward, beginning with Mesrine's tour of duty in French-occupied Algeria, his return home to his parents and their bland bourgeois existence, and his first steps down the road to tabloid infamy.

Mentored, if that's the word, by the tough and tubby Guido (Gerard Depardieu, enjoyably sinister), Mesrine starts to make a name for himself - his audacious heists, his brutality, his mustache. Vincent Cassel, paunchy and paranoid as the older Mesrine, and then progressively leaner and meaner as the film rolls in reverse through the years, has a swaggering intensity that commands the screen. The guy is dynamic.

Elena Anaya and Cécile de France play the women who find themselves, somewhat inexplicably, in love with this man. Anaya is the beautiful Spaniard who produces children for her husband; de France becomes Bonnie to Mesrine's Clyde. Neither relationship ends well.

Richet and Cassel spent close to a year immersed in the shooting of Mesrine. Killer Instinct opens now; Public Enemy, a more expansive undertaking chronicling the gangster's complicated, confrontational relationship with the public and the police, is set to open next Friday. Review to follow.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/

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