Written by: Giuseppe Rijitano on May 22nd, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: France, November 2008
Director: Jean-François Richet
Writers: Abdel Raouf Dafri (scenario, adaptation and dialogue), Jean-François Richet (adaptation and dialogue)
Cast: Vincent Cassel, Cécile De France, Roy Dupuis, Gérard Depardieu, Elena Anaya, Gilles Lellouche, Olivier Gourmet, Ludivine Sagnier, Mathieu Amalric, Samuel Le Bihan.
DVD released: January 25th, 2010
Approximate running time: 237 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic / 1080 Progressive
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
DVD Release: Momentum Pictures
Region Coding: Region B (UK)
Retail Price: £29.99
“All films are part fiction. No film can faithfully reproduce the complexity of a human life. Each to his own point of view.” – Disclaimer presented before both films.
Young French soldier Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) has just returned from serving his country in the brutal conflict in Algeria. Finding it hard to readjust to his middle class life after the violence and torture he was exposed to in war he leaves home and quickly falls in with a crowd of gangsters led by Guido (Gerard Depardieu). Mesrine proves himself to be a surprisingly intelligent addition to the team and a cold-blooded killer to boot, so it isn’t long before he’s climbing the goodfellas ladder from lackey to enforcer to trusted lieutenant and right hand man to Guido. This lifestyle of crime and violence is balanced somewhat by his meeting and falling in love with a Spanish girl, Sofia (Elena Anaya) with whom he goes on to have three children. After one of his first long stints in prison for bank robbery he tries to go straight for Sofia and his family, getting a 9-5 job that he hates, but it doesn’t take long for him to regress back to his old ways and lose Sofia for good after a heated argument in which he slaps her around and sticks a gun in her mouth. And so Mesrine throws himself back into the criminal life with gusto and by 1968 his exploits have become almost legendary. Hunted by the police to the extent that he is forced to flee France with his semi-psychotic, equally sociopath new girlfriend Jeanne Schneider (Cecile De France). They make it to Canada where a trail of kidnapping, robbery and general Bonnie-and-Clyde-style violence blazed across the border into the US and ends in arrest and imprisonment for both. Mesrine is extradited back to Canada and sent to Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, a brutal maximum security prison in which he is physically and mentally abused. With the help of a friend, Jean-Paul Mercier (Roy Dupuis) with connections to FLQ (Quebec Liberation Front) he makes a daring escape and an even more audacious return to the prison a few weeks later, armed to the teeth, in an attempt to kill as many guards as he can and free a bunch of cons he doesn’t even really like!
And all that is just Part One! A stylish whirlwind of a biopic that never lets up it’s pace over it’s near two hour runtime. Through a haze of cigarette smoke, whisky and new wave outfits we are introduced to the lethally seductive, irresistibly energetic Mesrine as played by Vincent Cassel in what is surely his career defining performance, drawing instant comparison to De Niro’s Raging Bull in his manipulation of physicality and the extent to which Cassel reshapes his actual appearance for the sake of realism. If at times it seems that events are glossed over or characters aren’t given enough time to develop then so be it, this is after all an inherently episodic narrative; Mesrine is really the sole focus and with such a magnetic central performance the rest is easily forgivable.
Part 2, subtitled Public Enemy No. 1, kicks off in the early 70’s with Mesrene back on French soil doing what he does best; robbing banks. Sometimes two in a day. Starting to believe his own hype this fatter, older, but no less charismatic and narcissistic Mesrene is a different beast to the raw edgy criminal of his youth. He has become a cocky showman, acutely aware of his high profile persona, not particularly worried about getting caught. In fact when he is arrested he escapes police custody, during his court appearance no less, with the assistance of yet another accomplice, Michel Ardouin (Samuel Le Bihan). Flirting with anti-establishment groups and proclaiming himself to be a gentleman bandit he again blazes a trail of mayhem across France until he is eventually caught and sentenced to 20 years in La Santé. It is here that Mesrine would write his infamous bestselling memoir (on which these films are based) implicating himself in over 40 murders and countless other crimes. Is any of it accurate? He tells his attorney; “People want pace, action. You have to give them what they want”. Befriending Francois Besse (Mathieu Amalric) in prison they discover a mutual proclivity for escaping incarceration and less than a year into his sentence Mesrene is over the wall yet again! Taking up with his latest love, elegant call girl Sylvie Jeanjacquot (Ludivine Sagnier), he contacts old cellmate and political activist Charly Bauer (Gerard Lanvin) to arrange a meeting with the Red Brigades. But the French government has had enough of Mesrene and they are out for blood, especially after his violent attack on journalist Jacques Dallier (Alain Fromager) who wrote an unfavorably article about him and was beaten, shot and left for dead by Mesrene and Bauer. President Valery Giscard d’Estaing asked the French Army to assist in the capture of Mesrene by any means necessary and the resulting abrupt and brutal conclusion to Mesrene’s story is still a subject of heated debate in France over three decades later.
Part 2 then dials back the breakneck speed of Part 1 but still delivers pace and action aplenty. This time however characters and events are afforded the opportunity to breathe and the film is all the better for it. A tense, nerve wracking prison break sequence with Cassel and Amalric is the standout in this second half. Cassel’s transfiguration is astonishing, gaining over 40 pounds to play the aging gangster in his later years is quite a feat but it’s his emotional transformation that sells us on the character and makes us feel something for this sociopathic, narcissistic criminal. In the end this is not a film that tries to explain the character of Mesrene. Instead of analysis we get shoot-outs, bank jobs and prison breaks and perhaps that is something of a failing but only because what we have seen has inspired us to want to understand and know more about this fascinating and very flawed individual. Without question Richet is a talented director, the film looks wonderful. Split screens, zooms, steadicams – all serve to evoke the hard-nosed aesthetic of Melville and Becker’s classic rugged French policiers. Never less than entertaining and highly recommended, one of the best gangster flicks of recent years, perhaps decades!
Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, VC-1 encode, 1080p transfer looks excellent. Both films are included on one 50GB disc and this has led to some very minor problems that really you will only notice if you are watching on a ridiculously enormous TV; namely some mild flickering during a couple of scenes. Overall the image is crisp and clear, with well saturated colors. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is excellent; clean, crisp and clear. Dialogue is perfectly balanced with the (rather excellent) musical score. The audio is French with optional English subtitles.
Very nice selection of extras here:
First up are two lengthy and informative making of featurettes: Making of Killer Instinct and Making of Public Enemy No 1. At roughly 48 minutes each these add up to pretty much a feature length documentary. Raw behind the scenes footage from the production presented in chronological shooting order and featuring lots of in-depth interviews with cast and crew. Including quite a few frank glimpses of Cassel at work rehearsing scenes on set with his director and co-stars, some of the best moments here feature Depardieu.
Next up a Director Interview in which Jean-Francois Richet discusses his experiences of getting the film made, casting, working with Cassel, etc. Frank and informative. (25 mins)
Then a couple more featurettes; Actors And Their characters – Cassel, Depardieu and every other notable actor in the film discuss their characters. (18 mins) Making Of Film Score – Composers Marco Beltrami and Marcus Trumpp discuss the creation of their scores. (10 mins)
And to round things off a few Deleted Scenes – Eight in total, collected from both films. Insignificant moments that were cut for pace.
Also included is an original theatrical trailer.
All of the above extras are presented in French with optional English subtitles.