It’s accepted that most movies chronicling the rise and fill of a superstar crime lord—despite the obligatory huffing and puffing over crime not paying—are usually at their most vital and pleasurable when glorifying the criminal’s various misdeeds. These sorts of films play to obvious fantasies, most prominently the daydream of shaking free of polite society’s restrictions and doing whatever the hell you please—which usually equates to spending prodigious amounts of money, consuming prodigious amounts of booze and drugs, and bedding hot young disposable playthings. The typical crime picture plays to our inner wannabe hedonist and perhaps to our resignation over the various compromises we’ve had to make over the course of our lives. The endings always restore balance, of course, killing or jailing the criminal so as to reinforce the notion that, well, we really probably shouldn’t go on a killing or robbing spree anytime in the near future.
Mesrine: Killer Instinct is the first of a two–part film centered on the exploits of killer and bank robber Jacques Mesrine. Called the “French Dillinger,” Mesrine went on a criminal tear across Europe and North America over a 20-year period that abruptly ended with his roadside execution in 1979. Killer Instinct revels in all of the tropes that we expect of crime films: a sexy, powerful leading outlaw (played by Vincent Cassel in a commanding, virile performance); a bevy of impossibly beautiful women; a charismatic, macho Big Boss (Depardieu using his girth to savvy effect); and, above all, accomplished, stylish heist sequences that keep the picture moving like a train. Killer Instinct is a compulsively entertaining genre picture, and director Jean-Francois Richet mercifully spares us that ugly pretend vérité realism that dominates so many crime thrillers these days. This film is lush, beautiful, and epically scaled—and that beauty is occasionally disconcerting considering the subject matter. Richet and co-screenwriter Abdel Raouf Dafri are clearly approaching Mesrine with something approaching unabashed reverence.
That reverence is the film’s one distinctive quality. The faux-morality has been pointedly pared away, which is simultaneously refreshing and a tad troubling (though we’ll presumably be treated to a bit of sermonizing in the second film, Public Enemy # 1). This film’s unquestioned complicity with Mesrine is most apparent in a climax that, though better staged, wouldn’t be out of place in a typical 1990s Steven Seagal movie. After an ingenious and, yes, rather Dillinger-esque escape from a typically cruel and abusive prison, Mesrine and a few cohorts return to mount a daring all-out assault on the institution, killing dozens of people on both sides of the law while managing to free a few of the prisoners Mesrine had befriended while incarcerated. The tone is unmistakably celebratory; we’re primed to cheer Mesrine as he plows through cruel, dominating oppressors. Killer Instinct is either an insane, almost entirely unquestioning celebration of all crime movie clichés or a chilling subversion of them. I’m voting the former, but I applaud the impassioned disdain for pretense.
The lush scope imagery is the real reason to see Mesrine: Killer Instinct, and this DVD sports a vibrant, detailed transfer. The picture’s clarity is particularly evident in the film’s many dark portions, as the blacks are sharp and distinct (no inkiness), while the colors in the tropical sequences practically pop. The sound is equally varied and distinct, especially during that lunatic prison shoot-out near the end. This is a good show-off boom-boom DVD to test your home entertainment system if you haven’t made the jump to Blu-ray yet.
A theatrical trailer and a decent English dub track if you’re afraid of subtitles, though I tend to disapprove of that sort of thing.
Mesrine: Killer Instinct is either an insane, almost entirely unquestioning celebration of all crime movie clichés or a chilling subversion of them.