Notes On A Film – Mesrine: Killer Instinct

(After a week of catching up on comics, it’s time to catch up on films I saw in the cinema; seeing as I’m only into August, I’ve got a lot to get through.)

There are times I can be picky about completely small things. The title of the film translates the French title (Mesrine: L’instinct de mort) to Killer Instinct, rather than the more accurate and appropriate ‘The instinct for death’ – the title character doesn’t have an instinct for killing, per se, but he does have an instinct for death, which is a subtle difference but an important one.

I had never heard of Jacques Mesrine before this film, but he’s something of a well-known gangster figure in France, hence a two-part biopic for him, of which this is the first. However, having watched the first part and learnt something of him, I had no desire to see the second part and learn anything more about him. It’s not as if I don’t know how it ends – the first film begins with a nicely shot opening scene, with split screens showing slightly different views of the action, where Mesrine is killed in his car in a Paris street (by a special hit squad of police). But I didn’t care to see the rest of his story, despite the excellent acting from Vincent Cassel as the lead character.

Actually, the first thing to appear on the screen is some introductory text to remind you that you are watching a French film: instead of simply saying this is a film based on his life and his own books he wrote in prison but there might be some dramatic licence, you get a load of pretentious waffle that adds up to the same thing, including the line ‘no film can truly capture the essence of a single man or the complexity of the human condition’. Those wacky French …

The film is a pretty straightforward account of Mesrine’s life after he comes out of the army and drifts into a world of crime and then tutelage under a crime figure played by Gerard Depardieu, looking suitably grizzled. However, it’s not quite a hagiography, as it shows him leaving his wife for the life of crime by sticking a gun in her mouth, and it shows him being quite useless as a gangster. He has to escape to Canada after robbing some casinos, where he ends up committing an abortive kidnapping that sees him arrested and placed in a brutal prison. He escapes from the prison but in a particularly haphazard attempt, which is where this film ended.

The film is well directed but the main character seems so unsympathetic and amateur that it’s hard to fathom that he would be regarded as a Robin Hood character – the second film covers his continual courting of the press and the addiction he had to that celebrity – and why I didn’t have the urge to see the rest of the film. The one outstanding aspect of the film is Cassel: he has always been an interesting actor – I will never forget seeing him in La Haine – and he is very good here. He isn’t afraid of the ugliness of the character and yet still be so charming: there is a hint of the famous roguishness when he pretends to be a police officer arriving at the scene of the crime where he is the one who has just robbed the place but got caught by the owner returning home unexpectedly. Apart from that, I failed to see what was so appealing about Mesrine.

Rating: VID

[See here for my film rating system]

No Comments

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.