Mesrine: Killer Instinct (l’Instinct de Mort)
The early career and criminal gestation of France’s most notorious bank robber and gangster Jacques Mesrine is circumscribed in the first part of two films telling his remarkable story.
Tracing a line from Mesrine’s disillusioning military service during the Algerian war to the beginning of his notoriety in 1972 (when he graduated to murder), the first instalment of this epic crime tale is derivative, energetic and hugely enjoyable.
Propelled by Vincent Cassel’s cheeky, psychotic, scenery-chewing turn as Mesrine and Assault on Precinct 13 director Jean-Francois Richet’s enterprising handle on the material Killer Instinct is a work of veneration and compulsion comparable to the better films of Brian De Palma (Scarface, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Carlito’s Way). Like a French Tarantino, Richet is clearly a filmmaker who loves movies and moviemakers. Over the course of these two films, he pays considerable respect to among others William Friedkin, Peter Yates, Michael Mann, Luc Besson and Michael Bay.
Supported by some of the cream of French stage and screen (Gérard Depardieu, Cécile De France, Ludivine Sagnier, Roy Dupuis and veteran French character actor Michel Duchaussoy all strut their stuff) and the commendably assured and incisive cinematography of Richet regular Robert Gantz, this is a prestige production that arrives with possibly overstated comparisons to The Godfather and Goodfellas.
Such comparisons actually do the film a bit of a disservice, though driven by a euphoric narrative that undeniably belongs to mainstream English language cinema, Killer Instinct and to a lesser extent its sequel is actually awash with homegrown influences. The sequences set in late-50s Paris could have been lifted from Henri Georges-Clouzot’s brilliant 1947 dockside thriller Quai des Oefevres and the spirit of Jean Gabin, most notably in Michael Carné’s moody 1938 deserter-on-the-loose drama Le Quai des Brumes which shadows every frame and crooked turn of Cassel’s ratty mouth. Roll on part two.
(15) 113 min Selected release from Fri 7 Aug.