DVD Review: Mesrine (2009)

28 Jun

Ben Buckingham is hanging out with ultra-violent crooks again. Perhaps I should vary the movies I send him… Want to do Garfield 2: A Tail of Two kitties next time Ben?

Forty minutes in and already there has been two beat downs, a knee-capping, an (off-screen) mutilation, and a murder. The first part of Mesrine, entitled L`instinct de Mort (The Killer Instinct), is living up to its name.

Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One (as it is titled in Australia) is a four hour crime thriller detailing the more lurid aspects of the real-life French criminal Jacques Mesrine. Throughout the ’60s and ’70s he committed numerous bank heists, kidnappings and murders, quickly making himself the number one public enemy in France.

Originally released as two films in Europe, Mesrine has now arrived on DVD, but lacking many of the details of the famous Frenchman’s life. The director, Jean-Francois Richet (better known internationally for the Assault on Precinct 13 remake) has created an exceptionally taut and thrilling film for the most part. What it lacks is greater insight into who Mesrine is. The narrative is disjointed, skipping over large portions of his life. Many things are left unclear as we stylistically skim over events. He seems to be living the high life in large mansions, but all we see him do during the first half of part one is get in petty brawls, lose at cards and go to prison. Even the details of his first prison sentence are unavailable to the viewer.

It’s like watching a nature documentary on a wolf without the David Attenborough narration; sure, it’s beautiful and impressive, but what exactly is the wolf doing and why is it doing it? It doesn’t feel like we ever get under the skin of Mesrine. He just comes off as a thug, prone to dumb behaviour and violence. Sure he has a heart of gold, saving the prostitute from her violent pimp, loving his wife and kids, sticking to his code of honour. But when push comes to shove, they all fall by the way side just so he can go on with his macho bullshit.

However, maybe we don’t need another film where the criminal is given greater depth than he actually had. It cannot be denied that, with the exception of adding excessive detail to a scene already witnessed which makes for an anti-climactic ending, Mesrine is a muscular thriller. It bares more than a passing resemblance to the classic euro-crime of the 70s, which is somewhat of an achievement in this era of bland, slick thrills. A magnificent selection of actors chosen for their skills rather than their looks gives the characters a realistic edge over most modern crime films. Vincent Cassel’s simplistic but engrossing performance gives the film a strong foundation on which to build an epic. His transformation from a lean, powerful youth to a bloated, ever hungry mouth is impressive, yet again proving himself to be one of the most interesting actors working today.

Mesrine may be a straightforward crime story, but if Hollywood could still make dramatic thrillers like this then we’d all be much happier.

Ben Buckingham

Locally distributed through Madman (as Public Enemy #1)

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