Mesrine: Killer Instinct (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Mesrine: Killer Instinct (2010)

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ANDREW LIKEKiller Instinct is the kind of movie that emits a ferocious hum of sex and violence.  It's absolutely fearless in the way it depicts the carnal urges and violent impulses of it's focus, the famous French revolutionary/murderer/author/lover/sadist Jacques Mesrine.  The direction by Jean Francois-Richet is impressive, but the casting of Vincent Cassell in the lead was a masterstroke.  His brand of charm could be slimy but has been absolutely fearless and unsettling in the right roles and this is a killer role for him.

This film is the first half of the whole story of Mesrine.  It's the dark side of a superhero origin tale, flipping from Mesrine's supposed violent end at the business tip of many rifles to his early days working for the French in the Algerian war.  It's there that he developed his taste for killing, and he uses that love of danger and death in the fearless way he approaches women.  Returning from the war he jumps straight into a criminal racket with Guido (Gerarde Depardieu), wracks up an unfortunate number of conquests and starts robbing banks.

On it's own, this first half also works as a riff on the old existentialist French novels where the "heroes" are the people that can fully commit to their actions be they good or bad.  Mesrine, to borrow some psychological phrasing, is all id and whatever morality he displays just slows him down in the long run.  He fully commits himself to the idea of whatever he is supposed to portray be it a ruthless soldier, a burgeoning gangster or (very briefly) a loving father.  This is a man that is not familiar with the idea of consequences and lives purely to go where and do exactly what he wants to do next.

This is what happens when you come armed and hug an old person.

Now this is where Vincent Cassell and Jean Francois-Richet pull off a tricky thing.  They make you care for the guy in a way beyond visceral thrills and the little vicious victories that come along with it.  A lot of it has to do with the way Jean Francois-Richet stages the events of Mesrine's life.  As I mentioned, Mesrine is a man that seems to be acting the part the seems most readily convenient for him, and the visuals of the movie follow suit.

There's a basic pop styling that recalls some of the caper thrillers of the 60's (The Thomas Crown Affair is a huge influence) and carries through most of the visuals in Killer Instinct.  But Jean Francois-Richet uses that framework differently depending on what Mesrine is doing.  When he is torturing prisoners during the war the film adopts this pop styling with a gritter, harsher tone that would not be out of place in a horror movie.  In the club when he's dining and flirting his way into any skirt who'll have him the visuals take a sharper, steadier focus that wouldn't be out of place in a Scorsese picture.  The same applies for scenes late in the movie when Mesrine is tortured by the French police and the camera stops to observe and regard in perfect clarity the surroundings that he's found in.

This has the effect of softening a lot of Mesrine's actions.  It always seems like he's a product of his most immediate environment instead of reacting in a way that a "normal" person would.  This produces a bit of sympathy for a man that seems to be deserving of none.  But the film doesn't forget the Mesrine is still the final corrupting influence and no matter where he goes, such as the club with it's deep blues, will slowly run red with his rage and passion.

I'm a sucker for split-screen effects, and they're put to good use in many different scenes of Killer Instinct.

I've long admired Cassell, from his deceptively complex role in Irreversible to his low-key slimy charm that oozes off in the otherwise forgettable Derailed.  This is the kind of role that many actors might take a step back from in intensity just to make sure the audience knows that he's not really like this.  I can easily imagine Jack Nicholson, in his younger days, charming up every frame.  But Cassell leaves nothing to chance and is fearless in how far he's willing to go with Mesrine.

Yes, there's charm, but there's also the man who is willing to beat his wife and shoot an unarmed man just to get information he needs.  Cassell pushes Mesrine as far as he can go and makes it impossible not to want to watch him, for all his deviousness, every moment that he's on-screen.  There are some fine supporting performances, such as the always welcome Depardieu as the crime boss and Cecile De France as his perfect but doomed lover, but it's all Cassell's show.  They are elevated because of the ferocious charisma he brings to the role, and all are better off for it.

I'm curious how well the film is going to work as a whole but I'm more than satisfied with the results of Killer Instinct.  This is film-making without fear, and I'm gleefully happy to share in the results.

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Mesrine: Killer Instinct (2010)

Directed by Jean Francois-Richet.
Screenplay by Abdel Raouf Dafri and Jean-Francois Richet.
Starring Vincent Cassell.

Posted by Andrew

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