The Nerd would be awfully fucking surprised if Mesrine: Killer Instinct and its follow-up Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 don’t gain some notoriety on DVD. (and netflix instant watch, on which both films are currently available) The French gangster epic from director Jean-Francois Richet is exciting, stylish, badass, and surprisingly accessible. If it weren’t subtitled I’d say that damn near any crime fan could dig it. Since it is subtitled, I’ll just say that any crime fan who is subtitlephobic should fucking suck it up and watch the hell out of that shit already. I mean, good god, evolve already, you fucking philistine!
Mesrine: Killer Instinct tells of Jacques Mesrine, the infamous murderer, thief, kidnapper, jail-breaker, and all around nefarious motherfucker who terrorized France, Canada and the US throughout the sixties and seventies. This film covers the sixties leg of his career, the time before he was a household name in France.
Son of a good middle class family, Mesrine (played by “Coolest Living Frenchman” Vincent Cassel) returns to France a changed man after serving in Algiers in the late fifties, having witnessed and perpetrated many horrors against Muslims while enlisted. He tries a square job for a bit but then falls in with an old school friend who drives a sweet car and has nice clothes, Mesrine soon asking if his friends’ “company” is hiring, and you better believe the underworld is always fucking hiring. Under the wing of local crime boss “Guido” (an aged, portly, and awesome Gerard Depardieu) Mesrine flourishes as thief, armed robber, and murderer, but always acting through some sort of personal “code” that no one else in the underworld goes by. As the sixties come to a close and Mesrine has killed and kidnapped his way across Canada and America, that code has all but vanished.
Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 shows our hero grappling with his image in the seventies when he was a no-shit celebrity in France. His daring jailbreaks and massive heists have gained him notoriety in the press and Mesrine wants desperately to control said notoriety, even writing a book during a stint in jail (that he eventually broke out of, of course) and at one point brutally murdering a famous columnist who dared to portray him as something decidedly less than a modern-day Robin Hood. But while he may muse on joining Baader-Meinhof or some other lofty revolutionary cause and while he may delight packed courtrooms with his quick wit retorts to the judge, ultimately he is a just a cruel man with a love of adrenaline, attention, women, and gaudily expensive things.
The period look of the films is great, the world Mesrine inhabits often flashy and cool yet giving off a believably lived-in feel. The action and suspense sequences happen often and hit hard, Mesrine proving capable at all sorts of violence – eventually even the deplorable kind of onscreen violence. (That kind of violence being of the domestic variety) But it’s scenes like the one where he beats his wife that display the film’s refreshingly clear-eyed approach to its central character. A lesser film might be content to simply depict a more mythically badass portrayal of its hero, make him less of a scumbag so we’re more likely to root for him as he does terrible shit like killing prison guards and cops.
Then again, the cops and prison guards in this film are often shown as nasty douchebags, especially in the prison scenes in Mesrine: Killer Instinct where Mesrine is tortured like he’s in a fucking Mel Gibson movie by asshole guards. When he finally breaks out only to later come back to break out more prisoners (as he had promised to his fellow inmates like Babe Ruth promising a homer to a consumptive six-year-old), you don’t feel too bad for the corrupt guards that he’s mowing down with machine guns. That reaction is either owed to the Nerd just being a sick fuck or Vincent Cassel fucking rocking the role like he was born to play it, with the answer most likely somewhere between the two.
If you can brave the subtitles like a fucking grown-up (jesus, I’m apparently in fucking make-the-world-a-better-smarter-place mode today) the Nerd assures you that you’ll dig the hell out of this relentless piece of epic badassery. From the brilliantly handled separate perspectives on Mesrine’s last minutes of life that bookend the entire work to everything in between that shit, Mesrine will have your ass riveted like that Rosie chick your women’s studies professor told you about. (Where did that little piece of unfunny come from? That right there tells the Nerd it’s time quit.)