To follow up on my review of Irreversible from earlier, the beautifully Gallic and phenomenally kinetic Vincent Cassel gives a great performance in Mesrine, a ‘gangster film’ by the French director Jean-Francois Richet. It is in two parts: Part one: Killer Instinct and Part two: Public Enemy No 1.
Mesrine is the story of the French gangster Jacques Mesrine who was hunted and celebrated throughout the sixties and seventies both in France and in Quebec, Canada. Purely in terms of cinema story telling, the film re-imagines both the E.G. Robinson and the Pacino Scarface, Cagney in White Heat and Public Enemy. Bonnie and Clyde, the movie and the bank-robbing duo, are directly referenced. Even famous bank robber Willie Sutton is paraphrased. When asked why he robbed banks Sutton said, “That’s where the money is.”
For a student of film this idolatry is wonderful to watch. They even pay loving homage to Jean-Pierre Melville the great French crime movie director who was directing his best known films, Le Samourai and Bob le flambeur during the time that Jacques Mesrine was learning where the money was and how to get at it.
In many ways the films will seem predictable. The French have always borrowed heavily from and paid tribute to American movies. They watch what we do and they break it down and identify elements that are perhaps unconscious to American filmmakers, then they make a technique out of it, use it and comment on it at the same time.
It is very smart, but to some Americans it makes them seem snooty. It is just that they think about things a lot, and we tend to react. They like it that we’re so impulsive and even think it’s funny.
Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Public Enemy #1 is a wonderful ride with a good director and one of the most exciting actors around today. Jacques Mesrine was also called ‘the man of one thousand faces’ and Vincent Cassel relishes a wig, make-up, and belly fat like any good actor. But what really makes it a performance to watch is the contained, controlled and focused energy of the man. Cassel has the authenticity and the unpredictability of a wild animal. It is a treat to watch.
Mesrine: Killer Instinct (part 1) screens tonight (9:45 p.m.) and Sept. 30 (5 p.m.) at the Oriental Theatre. Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 (part 2) screens Sept. 30 (9:45 p.m.) and Oct.1 (9:30 p.m.), also at the Oriental Theatre. For more info, click here.
Mark Metcalf is a writer, professional actor and resident of Milwaukee. He hosts TCD’s weekly podcast “Backstage with Mark Metcalf” and occasionally writes the film blog “Moving Pictures.” Mark is also Milwaukee Film’s Director of Collaborative Cinema, giving area students hands-on experience with film making.