4.10.10

Monday Movie: Mesrine Parts 1 & 2


Jacques Mesrine returns from the violence of the Algerian war to a life of burglary. Finding his way from there into organised crime, he eventually becomes a transatlantic icon, after a spree of armed robberies with his then girlfriend across France and Quebec. When he's finally incarcerated and tortured in a notorious Canadian prison - and resolves to both break out and come back and break out the other prisoners, something tells you he's not going to be proven wrong - even if the latter exercise merely results in a lot of people getting shot. And, of course, it's all based on a true story.

Mesrine Part 1: Killer Instinct, climaxes with Jacques, if not fulfilling his word to bust open a prison, at least committing enough audacious crimes (for example, robbing two banks on opposite sides of the same street one after the other) to have become something of a legend. Mesrine Part 2: Public Enemy Number 1 picks up the story with our anti-hero going from strength to criminal strength - escaping from a courtroom with the judge at gunpoint, robbing banks and casinos, escaping prison yet again, abducting a millionaire and rowing leisurely away from a huge police and military search party.

Where things get really interesting is how Mesrine becomes obsessed with his public perception, to the extent that when one journalist publicly attacks his self-proclaimed Robin Hood status, Mesrine lures him to a fake interview and then tortures and attempts to murder him. The sense of the criminal as a member of wider society - in particular of the famous criminal and their relation to the media - is palpable. But where director Jean-Fran├žois Richet really succeeds is in depicting both Mesrine's crimes and his charm with unflinching honesty. We're left with no doubt that this is a man who did terrible things, but we also all too readily understand the allure that made him such an infamous figure.

And, finally, you can't discuss the film without mentioning Vincent Cassel's incredible lead performance - a single role which has launched him from being best known as the guy who used to be friends with Mathieu Kassovitz, to a name being tentatively compared to Pacino and De Niro. Time will only tell whether this is his peak or his best opportunity, but I sincerely hope that he's now given more roles that will let him fulfil his potential.

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