Mesrine: Killer Instinct

Slimiest Critters: Not the Brightest


Starring: Vincent Cassel, Cecile De France

By Robert Patrick

Jacques Mesrine is the smarmiest, ugliest, cruelest baddie to fire up a cigarette. I would imagine if thrown into a pit of snakes, they would slither away from this guy. Vincent Cassel plays the sociopath Mesrine with a fiery temperament and a uneven stagger. The thespian goes head first into the syrupy world of guns, drugs, femme fatales and squirmy prison guards. If you’ve seen a gangster movie in the past sixty-years, you’ve probably seen some of “Killer Instinct” – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Director Jean-Francois Richet’s seedy opus recreates the world of real life celebrity killer Jacques Mesrine with ultimate confidence. Nineteen-sixties Paris runs thick with jet black suits and plumes of cigarette smoke. Every shape passing through the streets of Mesrine’s world is a crooked one, unable to fit into even the shadows. A veteran of the Algerian War, our protagonist – can we just say antagonist? – lacks any sort of moral compass or even social tact. If he disagrees with you, he’s likely to pistol whip your dome and deal out your teeth like they were cards at a black jack table. Not a pretty sight – and even his wife gets the brunt of his anger.

The movie could have been, because of its basic structure and by-the-numbers direction, a rueful journey into tedium. Instead, the acting in the film carves out a world full of teeth-grinding tension and barrel hazing violence. Cassel – and I can not say this enough – is permeating unabridged evil. From the way he revs up his lips in verbal firefights to the way he straddles his fingers across his gun, this is Cassel’s film to own. If you enjoy prison escape movies and your usual stack of “I’m-paranoid-who-do-I-trust” imbroglios, then this will be good eye fodder no matter who is acting in the thing. Luckily, for feverish fans of the gangster genre, you’ll be able to see good acting too.

Funny even still is that Mesrine wasn’t the brightest of criminals. The guy lacked a sense of mortality and often bolted into inopportune situations with the quickness of a Peregrine Falcon. These particular conundrums, a macabre mix of something Benny Hill or Jimmy Cagney would get into, provide the audience with some subdued laughs. The prison sequences are, without revealing much of anything, a good indicator to how curiously insane Mesrine was.

Going into the theatre, you have to be reminded that this is episode one of a two episode set of films. By the end of the first feature, “Killer Instinct”, there is a sense of playful intrigue that will make you want to see the second feature almost immediately. At the conclusion of this film, Mesrine is at the height of his filthy empire of spent shells and severed handcuffs, which, by the looks of things, means that part two is the downside for poor Jacques and his crooked sidekicks. With that being said, it’s all about the travel to that precarious destination that makes the films such a savory feat of action and style.

At the end of the year, I’ll be sure to include Mesrine for a few “Best Of” categories. No, the direction isn’t going to knock the wheels off anyone’s wagon. The film itself isn’t the most creative thing in the world, and there would be certain declivity if not for Cassel’s performance to elevate the thing, but it’s still irrefutably entertaining.

Loud fighting and muzzle flashes? Cassel looking like the spawn of Satan? A prison worse than Papillon? That’s a good score waiting to happen.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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