L’instinct de mort (Mesrine: Part 1 – Death Instinct) is part one (of two) of a biopic about Jacques Mesrine, directed by Jean-François Richet and starring Vincent Cassel, Cécile De France and Gérard Depardieu. L’instinct de mort follows Mesrine lives from the start of his criminal career to the showdown of events in Canada. [The second part starts there and continues to his death.]
Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) was a soldier in the Algerian war where he witnessed gruesome events, which might or might not have been a trigger for his following ruthlessness. Back in France, he started working for a small gangster boss (Gérard Depardieu). He did pretty much everything from robbing banks to murdering and beating people. After getting arrested, trying to lead a normal life and going back to his criminal ways, Mesrine got into trouble with another group of gangsters and eventually fled with his mistress Jeanne (Cécile de France), first to the US, then to Canada. In Canada he met Jean-Paul Mercier (Roy Dupuis) who was part of the Front de libération du Québec. After a failed kidnapping, all three of them got arrested and Mesrine was sentenced to ten years in prison. But he escaped, robbed banks and later tried to break out some other prisoners of the same prison but failed there. Shortly before he returnes to France, the movie ends.
Mesrine was an interesting character and Vincent Cassel is an amazing cast. But the movie is definitely not for everyone – it’s pretty frank with its sex scenes in the first half and exceptionally brutal in the second half. No, that’s not true. It’s brutal throughout the whole movie. The cutting and the directing weren’t great, but it definitely made me want to see part two.
As I said before, Vincent Cassel was the perfect cast – though he usually is really good in everything he does. But it’s hard to pull off what he did – play a psychopath, a seriously ruthless fucker and you still care what happens to him. Also, he doesn’t shy away from the violence. I mean, he’s proven that he knows how to fight in one of the best fight scenes in the history of cinema and he continously makes very brutal movies. But he just catapulted himself to the top of my “most brutal moves” list. In one scene there are two guys entering “his” bar and they are extremely rude to the waitress. Mesrine walks up to them and tells them to tone it down, then orders drinks for them and waits till the guy takes a sip and WHAM! smashes the glass against his face.
But not all acts of violence are committed by Mesrine. There’s a pretty detailed account of the way Mesrine is treated in prison – the first three months, he’s in solitary confinement (without so much as a bed in the cell), gets beaten up regularly and isn’t allowed to speak to anybody. [Interestingly enough, later his escape from prison drew attention to how prisoners were treated and authorities put a stop to these practices. Mesrine himself became a kind of spokesperson in the fight for humane treatment of prisoners.]
Cécile De France and Roy Dupuis were also really good in their respective roles. But it’s hard to see anybody else when Vincent Cassel is on screen.
I didn’t much like the directing and the cutting. Especially in the beginning there was a lot of split screen and for no apparent reason. Mesrine walks down a street on the left side of the screen, he walks down the same street in the middle of the screen, just a few seconds later and filmed from a slightly different angle and the same again on the right side – unnecessary and unnerving.
At least they didn’t take up the annoying habit of cutting things too fast for people to follow what’s going on.
The film is based on Mesrine’s autobiography (which sold so well that French law has now a “Law Mesrine” which prohibits criminals to profit from their crimes) and I think that Abdel Raouf Dafri did an amazing job writing the screen play. Not only did he manage to make a stringent story out of it – which is difficult with biographies – but he’s also pretty frank with Mesrine as a character – not too kind, making him nicer than he really is, but also not too harsh, making him the ultimate evil. Also, the women in Mesrine’s life are not reduced to motivations for Mesrine, but they remain actual characters – which is really nice. [Even if the movie still fails the Bechdel test.]
Summarising, it is an interesting look at an interesting man with a great cast and a good script, but which unfortunately lacks in other departments. Still, it’s worth to see, if you can handle the violence.
On a sidenote: In German, the movie’s called Public Enemy N°1. A preview for Public Enemies came on and the guy next to me turned round and asked me, “Isn’t that the movie we’re going to see?” ;)
In the end, I don’t think he was disappointed as he said that he wanted to see the second part as well.