Mesrine: Killer Instinct

Mesrine: Killer Instinct (2008)
★★ / ★★★★

In 1979, Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) and a woman he was with were ambushed and killed by the French police. Jumping to the 1950s in the middle of the Franco-Algerian War, we observe Mesrine partake in a violent interrogation in which he is eventually ordered to shoot a woman in the head. Once discharged, he returns to his hometown to live with his parents. Although his father has secured him a respectable job, Mesrine instead chooses to work for the local mob, led by a man named Guido (Gérard Depardieu).

Based on the book by none other than the subject of the film, although “Mesrine: Killer Instinct” is occasionally elevated by nail-biting scenes, it is only partially successful in creating a portrait of a deeply complicated man. This shortcoming can partly be attributed to the mishandling of time jumps. A handful of them pass after a blink of an eye—without having a chance to build up, punch through, and show why that specific time in Mesrine’s life is a high point or a low point. I wrinkled my brows and wondered what the picture is attempting to communicate or achieve.

Conversely, certain time periods that seem to go on forever, aimless, its ideas are recycled continuously to the point of tedium. For example, there is a hold-up, followed by a quick celebration, then the attention turns to the negative aspect of the occupation. After, Mesrine feels the itch to do another job and steal more money. Rinse and repeat. When the pacing slows down, we cannot help but suspect that script has run out of ideas.

At times, the picture focuses on what makes Mesrine vulnerable through the women in his life. There is Sarah (Florence Thomassin), a prostitute with whom he considers his lover; Sofia (Elena Anaya), a gorgeous Spanish woman who gave birth to his three children; and Jeanne (Cécile De France), a woman not unlike himself, deeply connected to crime. Whenever the main character is next to the opposite sex, it is almost like watching an invisible wall melt. Whether the interactions take a form of flirtations in a bar, dancing to some spicy music, or just being at home, it feels refreshing to see because we feel his struggle between leading a life that is expected of him versus a life that quenches the thrill of being in a position of power.

His search for domination is nicely tethered to the way he sees his father (Michel Duchaussoy): a good man but is often a doormat. Unfortunately, for every scene that looks more into Mesrine’s personal life, there are four or five scenes of him being showcased as a tough guy with a gun accompanied by powerful glares.

Mesrine might not have been a lot of things, like a good father or a good husband, most might even consider him a bad person, but, as the film suggests, he is a man of his word. Somehow, even though it made me somewhat uncomfortable, I found myself respecting that part of him. I believe that admiration is one of the reasons why I constantly wanted to see him do good even though he is already neck-deep in criminal records.

Written by Abdel Raouf Dafri and directed by Jean-François Richet, “L’instinct de mort,” sometimes romanticized but often gritty, requires smoother transitions of its subject’s life events. At its worst, instead of the dramatic tension pouring over one another from one year to the next until the inevitable flood, tension is drained after each year and the material begins from scratch.

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