“There are no heroes in crime” – Jacques Mesrine
“Mesrine: Killer Instinct” is an outlaw odyssey of Jacques Mesrine, the notorious French gangster of the 1960s and 70s, who became known as “French Public Enemy #1” and “The Man of a Thousand Faces.” He was a daring figure and a ruthless killer. Mesrine was involved in numerous robberies, kidnappings and murders. His criminal career came to an abrupt halt in 1979, when he was shot dead in the center of Paris by a French SWAT team.
Not long before his death, Mesrine wrote his story as both a thriller and a biopic, portraying himself as a romantic renegade and a tragic figure. Mesrine flirted with media a lot, wanting everyone in France to regard him and his girlfriend Jeanne Schneider as a French Bonnie and Clyde. Journalists were more than willing to give Mesrine the fame he desired. But when he kidnapped and tortured journalist Jacques Tillier after an insulting article, his romance with the press ended. Two months later, he was shot.
Thirty years later, Abdel Raouf Darfi, known for his work in Jacques Audiard “A Prophet," took Mesrine's story to where he probably wanted it most -- the movie screen. As an epic work of transgression and flamboyance leading to a miserable violent end, the book made a logical cinematic adaptation. Darfi notes: “Through Mesrine, who was a crystallization of French society, I was also trying to comprehend that society as it was when he lived.” Mesrine’s director Jean-Francois Richet co-wrote the second film with Darfi, which turns darker and portrays sinister aspects of Mesrine’s character. As a result, they’ve created a story which lies somewhere between genre film and an art film. Richet remembers:”We
didn’t structure it to respect the codes of a certain genre, we made it best to serve the character”.
For the role of Mesrine Richet cast prolific Vincent Cassel, who is about to begin production on David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method”. The role of Mesrine’s mentor and gang leader Guido was given to Gerard Depardieu. Depardieu saw this role as a rare chance to portray a mobster: ”It’s rare to make a film about a really bad guy, a true gangster story with a twist. The high security prison, the Algerian war, the Secret Armed Organization (a French nationalist militant and underground organization during the Algerian war), the young men came back from war, who had no jobs, who played around with their guns… it was one hell of an era! There are no more real mobsters today.”
As much as one may be tempted to compare “Mesrine” to “The Godfather” given the scale of the project, it’s a crime epic of another kind. The film stays focused on the image of one man, whose relationships to his friends, family and lovers remain on the periphery of the plot. Further, unlike Al Pacino, Mesrine is never conflicted about his actions or relationships. The confidence in his "cause" lends to his mystery and the story plays out as a fearless and poignant character study within the structure of a gangster film.
“Mesrine: Killer Instinct “opens nationwide, today August, 27th .
Washington D.C. E Street Cinema
Los Angeles ArcLight Hollywood & The Landmark
San Francisco Embarcadero Center Cinema & Theatre Kabuki
New York Angelika Film Center