Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1

I watched Mesrine: Parts 1 and 2 again the other night (or to give them their full titles: Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1) and I’d completely forgotten how amazing they both were. I hadn’t seen them since they were on at the cinema and I remember thinking at the time that I would like them, but not that much. How wrong I was…

One thing that’s so great about both films is the story behind it – Mesrine’s life story is amazing and just…insane: too many bank robberies to count, 3 prison breaks, kidnappings of millionaires…France’s Public Enemy No. 1 had a very interesting (and busy) life indeed. The adaptation that director Jean-François Richet and writer Abdel Raouf Dafri (who was also one of the writers of the amazing A Prophet) has created from Mesrine’s own autobiography (unwisely published when he was still in prison – not a good idea when you’re due to go on trial) manages to keep all the most impressive bits of his life while still building up the characters slowly with enough back-story.

Vincent Cassel is brilliant as Mesrine – he has the right mix of charm, smugness and audacity (and to show how committed Cassel was to the role you can see him visibly getting fatter and hairier as the films go on – I think that’s referred to as the reverse Bale). Mesrine himself is a fascinating character (although it feels weird calling him a character when he was real) – he is completely obsessed with his own publicity, making sure people have all the right facts about him and even that they are pronouncing his name correctly: he becomes almost a celebrity criminal (sort of like John Dillinger) and he wants to make sure it stays that way.

Personally I prefer the second film – mostly coz the character of Mesrine has already been established so there’s no back-story to get through and coz he’s so much more cocky in the second one, which makes him all the more funnier. I did love the gripping prison break scene in the first film though (ingenious and completely audacious). The prison break from the second film is equally as gripping too though (and equally ingenious). Another great aspect in Part 2 is the introduction of Mathieu Amalric (amazing in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and equally amazing here) as the criminal Besse who Mesrine meets in prison (even if he does look like a v. thin version of David Mitchell – the comedian, not the writer) – and it adds a nice element of a person who is the complete opposite to Mesrine: quiet, calm, and wanting to stay under the radar at all costs…

It is also expertly shot by Richet who creates some remarkable scenes, action and otherwise (and the repetition of the opening split-screen scene from the first film shown from other viewpoints in the second film is clever and an excellent idea). All in all though it’s a brill bio film of a truly interesting man which Vincent Cassel (and director Jean-François Richet) makes completely fascinating and memorable. I don’t know how much is entirely true (and whether parts of it are exaggerated for dramatic effect or not) coz of it being based on Mesrine’s own autobiography; so it could be a little (or very) unreliable – but who cares when the result is this good.

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~ by square-eyed-geek on July 7, 2011.

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