Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1
This two-part tale of French gangster-showman Jacques Mesrine is as densely packed and serially rambling as a well-trafficked Wikipedia entry. Director Jean-François Richet, who whipped up not-bad mayhem in his Assault on Precinct 13 remake, devotes so much time to tallying his subject’s career milestones and highlights that any insight into the super criminal falls by the wayside.
Mesrine’s jaw-dropping record of flamboyant crimes and repeat prison breaks would seem to guarantee an exciting portrait, but Richet proves maddeningly loath to edit his material, and his charismatic star, Vincent Cassel, does not delve deep.
Part One opens with Cassel and film in ’70s drag (‘stache, split screens) and previews the gangster’s deadly ambush by cops in an unmarked truck, before returning to his beginnings. Part One also establishes the director’s wearisome approach. His daisy chain of capers and hideouts, with no feel for which events to dwell on, suggests an impatience with basic storytelling.
No small problem, too: The film yields only a rudimentary feel for what it was like to live in France or Canada in the ’60s and ’70s if you weren’t a gangster in a movie. How can you get a sense of a folk hero or of media obsession without context?
Part Two dives into the ’70s and sees Mesrine notching up another prison escape, cycling through disguises and ratcheting up his media provocations. This is buffet-style biopic, about as epic as Cassel’s dutifully acquired second-half potbelly and no more profound.