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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


 Mesrine: Killer Instinct


Director Jean-Francois Richet (2008)

Where does a man learn to kill? In a war, of course. Mesrine: Killer Instinct, the first part of a two-part film telling the real-life story of Jacques Mesrine, France’s most infamous criminal, has a pretty good stab (no pun intended) at showing how somebody’s son could possibly finish up such a nasty piece of work.

Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) is first brutalised as a soldier in the French occupation of Algeria where he acquires not only the ability to kill but also an unpleasant racist streak. Back in Paris he must feed his weakness for gambling – or rather losing – so burglary seems a lucrative option.

Then it’s a matter of escalation. He meets Guido (Gerard Depardieu), a minor godfather whose cruelty Depardieu brilliantly contrives to ooze through an avuncular exterior. He is able to command, almost hypnotically, Mesrine's loyalty above that for his young family, and the moment this becomes clear brings a cold shock.

There is another turning point, though, which is more difficult to identify. Just when does the audience start to sympathise with, like and even cheer on this despicable character? Probably not when he takes up the cause of Free Quebec when he is forced to flee France for Canada. He's not fooling anybody about his political commitment there.

More likely it happens in the 'correction unit' where the cold steel of state violence trumps Mesrine's more cuddly thuggery.

Surely it wasn't just me who was willing him on in his gripping escape bid, and his fearless defiance of authority? This is the way good fiction can work, of course, by drawing you in behind someone you wouldn't normally be behind and getting you to question your own loyalties.

Will Mesrine still be our hero in part two? Can't wait to find out.


August 10, 2009

Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1

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