Mesrine: Killer Instinct [L'Instinct de Mort] Movie Review

Edgy and rough, this is the first half of an energetic biopic about one of France's most notorious criminals. And with a riveting performance by Cassel at the centre, it's definitely worth seeing, even if it never really gets beneath the skin.

Jacques Mesrine (Cassel) is educated in brutality while serving as a soldier in Algeria. With his charismatic personality, he falls into a life of crime with the vicious mobster Guido (Depardieu). While fiercely protective of his Spanish wife Sofia (Anaya), he engages in nasty acts of vengeance and, after a stint in prison in 1962, finds a new wife Jeanne (DeFrance). They embark on a Bonnie & Clyde-style crime spree, travelling from Montreal to Arizona with the officials on their tail. But the Canadian prison can't hold him either.

Filmmaker Richet races through this story so quickly that we rarely get any sense of the situations or the characters. This is bold, confident, sexy filmmaking, but it feels like it bounces across the surface of this man's life.

Along the way, Richet captures the 1960s in vivid detail (including some groovy split-screen imagery) and includes some truly audacious sequences that keep us on the edge of our seats. But as a whole, it feels oddly episodic.

What makes it work is Cassel's vigorous turn as a forceful, likeable monster.

He's larger than life in the role, exuding cocky confidence and a disdain for any form of law. But while we warm to the twinkle in his eye, we never believe that he has any real concern for his friends or family beyond a vague sense of duty. In this sense it's an odd performance, because Cassel is so terrific at capturing this man's charisma, but we wonder why anyone would want to spend a moment in his presence.

The frantic pace doesn't help either, as the film leaps from scene to scene without much connective tissue. We struggle to keep up with the stream of characters and events. But each lively, action-packed, harrowing or emotional scene is wonderfully staged and performed, with superb moments featuring Cassel as well as the always watchable DeFrance and Depardieu on peak form in gruff tough-guy mode. Next up: the '70s...

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Mesrine: Killer Instinct [L'Instinct de Mort] Rating

" OK "

Rating: 15, 2009

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