|'while, in the second part at least, Mesrine threatens to get away from Richet, he never does from Cassel'|
Mesrine starts with a rather bizarre disclaimer which points out that a film can never fully represent any one person's life and by turns can therefore never be the entire truth. So... I'll just turn your film off now then shall I? Director Jean-Francois Richet's point though, perhaps somewhat lost in the suspect translation, is that with Mesrine he is dealing with a character so complex that he can't possibly fit him in to a single film, a character who doesn't even know himself and a character who's own biography may be part fiction. In fact, Richet even shows the disclaimer at the beginning of part 2 as well, as if to say; 'this man is so complex, I can't even fit him in to two films!'
Clocking in at just over four hours, Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One tell the story of Jacques Mesrine, a French criminal and gangster who graduated in notoriety, daring and violence until he was declared the titular prime target of the French police in the 1970's. Richet's films are separated only by some credits and follow similar paths of tone and style, showing that really, they are one picture, divided for audience convenience and studio marketability. In fact, if you buy the Blu-ray you can watch the entire four hours without changing disk, probably the way Richet envisioned it all along.
And watch all four hours I did because the one criticism you can't level at Mesrine is that it isn't compelling. Held together by a mercurial and gripping lead from Vincent Cassel, Mesrine might be a sprawling narrative but it never feels such, Cassel always earthing us in Mesrine's feelings and intricacies, never missing an opportunity to show ambiguity; Mesrine is by turns a tender or passionate lover a patient or violent adversary. As the narrative hops backwards and forwards between countries and Mesrine discards old friends and acquires new, Cassel has always got him under control and while, in the second part at least, Mesrine threatens to get away from Richet, he never does from Cassel.
It is the second part out of the two which is the weaker, regardless of whether that is seen as being a separate film or just the tail end of the narrative. Either Richet has picked less interesting parts of the story or has just struggled to bring them to life but it too often feels like we are seeing the same thing and Mesrine meanders rather than strides to the finish line, suffering also from weaker supporting characters and acting despite the presence of Mathieu Amalric and the gorgeous Ludivine Sagnier, both of whom feel one note.
When it's good though, particularly in the first half, Mesrine is excellent, portraying a complex man who is never entirely sure who he is or what he stands for, just that it isn't anything the 'normal' world has to offer. By the time revolutionary Bauer shows up as Mesrine's mirror image antithesis and references to the Baader-Meinhof gang are mentioned, it is clear that Mesrine is a rebel without a cause, a conclusion if any is offered, as to the reasons behind his actions and eventual demise. Four for the first part, three for the second, maintains its higher rank if watched as a Mesrine Marathon.
|Mesrine: Part One|
|Mesrine: Part Two|
'Mesrine is simply a brilliant gangster film… cinematic gold' - Good Film Guide, 9/10