Monday, April 18, 2011
Mesrine: Part 1, Killer Instinct
The film opens using a changing split screen effect to show us Sylvie (Ludivine Sagnier) walking onto a Paris street with a little dog. She cautiously looks around and gives a bearded Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel.) a signal that it's safe to come out, which he does, cautiously looking around in every direction. He follows her to a garage and gets a car, driving them off, but nearly hitting a car which speeds past as he's pulling onto the road. He then drives down the street in reverse and stops for Sylvie to retrieve something which looks like carpet from a building, and drives off again.
A large truck almost cuts him off in traffic and waves to be let in front of him. Sylvie suggests he let the truck pass which he does, only to have it stop in front of him. A tarp opens up from over the back of the truck and we see Sylvie scream realizing many men with heavy guns are aiming at her and Mesrine.
We then move back in time to Algeria, 1959. The French army is questioning Algerian prisoners about the location of a bomb. The prisoners aren't cooperative, and the soldiers, including Mesrine beat them, finally resorting to bringing one of their wives into the interrogation room. She tells her husband not to talk. Mesrine is handed a pistol and instructed to kill the girl. He puts the gun to her head but then against orders, decides to kill their captive instead. We see him later, leaving the army, and waiting for his father, Pierre (Michel Duchausov,) to pick him up in a diner. We hear a newscast in the background about the French and Algerians working together. They hug and he brings Jacques home for dinner. Jacques' mother informs him that his father got him a job, but before they talk much, a car horn interrupts. Mesrine's old friend Paul (Gilles Lellouche,) has come to pick him up in a nice convertible, from which Mesrine concludes he's doing pretty well. Paul remarks that he does "odd jobs." They go to a nightclub, where Paul has arranged Mesrine a prostitute named Sarah (Florence Thomassin) They quickly end up in bed and during sex, Mesrine asks "So it's like that, you won't cum for free?" She tells him "only if she's paid to." He tells her she should pay him and she replies "You're a good lover, but you can't dodge the bill." He asks "Wanna bet?"
We next see Mesrine meeting Paul for a card game. He puts down his whole salary, and at the end of the night asks his friend if he can borrow cab fare. He offers Mesrine a wad of cash, but Mesrine returns it taking only enough for the cab. He asks Paul if the people that give him odd jobs "under the table" are hiring. Paul laughs and says they are. We see Mesrine and Paul another day, breaking into a house to find a safe. Mesrine finds it full of gold and cash. He shows Paul all the money, and he's initially excited but soon says "something's not right." We see the home owners coming into the room to confront them. Rather than flee, Mesrine claims that he and Paul are police and that they've just been robbed. He instructs the owner to find his unregistered firearms and bring them to the police station. They agree and Mesrine and Paul leave. Mesrine tells Paul that was easy and asks for more. Paul offers to introduce him to his connection, Guido.
We see Paul introducing Mesrine to Guido (Gerard Depardieu) Guido welcomes Mesrine but then asks Paul why he brings him "every stray dog you find in the street"
Mesrine: You mean me?
Paul: Not you.
Guido: I asked you a question Paul.
Mesrine: And I'm talking to you. Will you answer me?
Guido: Yeah, what?
Mesrine: Are you calling me a stray dog?
Guido: What are you barking about?
Mesrine: You better have an army behind you if that's how you're going to talk to me.
Guido: He bites. My army is well known.It's the SAO. The Secret Army Organization. We hit where and when we want.
Mesrine: All I see is a fat man talking.
Guido: You're parents never taught you respect? Then I will, kid.
Mesrine: You'll need more than sweat in your palms for that.
Guido: Is this what you're looking for [points a gun at Mesrine] That's what happens when you let just anyone fuck with you. Where's my respect?
Mesrine: All right. Keep cool.
Guido [putting the gun down] Relax. I'm not that crazy. You seem like an intelligent kid. Let me give you some advice, friend to friend. In our business, there's nothing to win. After a whole career, if you do well, you'll have this [motioning to the room around them] And you'll be lucky. Understand Mesrine?
Mesrine: Thanks for the advice. I won't forget it. Meanwhile, if this is really friend to friend, call me Jacques.
Guido: As you wish Jacques, here [hands Mesrine the gun]
We see Jacques with Sarah again. in a hotel. She lies naked on the bed while Mesrine is in the bathroom getting ready to go. She tells Mesrine that he should pay off her "man" and she could be his. He gets insulted that she would imply he'd want to be a pimp. He warns her to watch how she talks to him. Mesrine goes home and finds his mother irate that he hasn't been to work for a week. She tells him "A real man makes an honest living.He starts a family. He's respected by his neighbors." Mesrine just closes the door to his room and starts taking some things to go. His mother tells his father to talk to him and he waits outside the room.
Pierre: Your mother and I don't want you to go. This is your home.
Mesrine: Your mother and I? Can't you once, just say I?
Pierre: What's eating you, Jacky?
Mesrine: What's eating Jacky is that he can no longer stand seeing his Dad act like a doormat. And hey, I can't stomach it. I can't stomach working for the Germans. And I wish just once I could be proud of my father.Do you get that? Just once in my life?
Pierre: I never worked for the Germans. It was the Obligatory Work Program.
Mesrine: Obligatory? There's no such thing, Dad. It doesn't exist. Was it obligatory when I enlisted for Algeria? Tell me. What's with this fucking family? Do balls skip a generation, or what?
We flash to Spain, 1960. Paul and Mesrine check out a night club and the both of them try to pick up girls despite not speaking the language. Mesrine is taken with a brunette, Sofia (Elena Anaya) who won't dance with him so he dances with her friend to get her attention and she soon joins him. She turns him down again however, when he asks her to go to a private room. Like the dancing, she changes her mind later. She tells him that it's her first time. The next morning he's hesitant to leave when Paul urges him to get going.
They drive to another bar and Mesrine asks why Sarah is in the ghetto. Paul tells him her pimp just got out of jail. Paul is surprised that Mesrine brought a gun, but he asks Paul why he didn't. Inside the bar, they ask for Sarah, and are told she won't be long. A man at another table, Sarah's pimp Ahmed, overhears, and tells them that Sarah's unavailable, sending an elderly woman over to them instead. She asks Mesrine to buy her a drink, but he tells her to shove off. She persists and he pushes her to the ground. Ahmed gets up, telling Mesrine "that's no way to behave" while Mesrine has his back to him, hiding the fact that he's pulling his gun. Rather than shoot Ahmed, he hits him in the face with the butt of the gun, sending him to the floor before challenging everyone else at the pimp's table to make a move. Sarah comes running out of the back room and checks on her pimp, angry with Mesrine for hurting him. Mesrine asks "Whoring for an Arab dog?" and she answers "So? He's my man." Mesrine kicks the pimp one more time, and Sarah tells him to leave. The pimp meanwhile tells Sarah she disgusts him, and won't let her help him.
We find Mesrine and Sarah in a room later. Mesrine comforts her and we see that the pimp has messed up her face. We see Mesrine sitting outside the bar in his car watching Ahmed and his associates, as well as Guido. Guido and Ahmed get in the back. Without turning around, Mesrine asks about his nose being swollen. Ahmed asks if Sarah's ok, and assures Mesrine that he worked it out with Guido so that Messrine will "get a deal on the girl." adding "After all, it's true. I did sort of break her." Mesrine compliments Ahmed's suit. And he makes a remark that he's "like a good Frenchman." Mesrine laughs and says "You know what they say to an Arab with a suit like yours? When he and Guido don't know, Mesrine tells them "Defendant, please rise!" Everyone laughs and Guido asks "Do you know what an Arab in a trash can is?" THe pimp daesn't know so Guido answers "A waste. You can fit three in there." Mesrine and Guido laugh but Ahmed doesn't. Mesrine assures him that they're only joking.
When they stop the car, Mesrine hits Ahmed. then binds and ties him while Guido watches, remarking "It's easier with women, huh?" Mesrine pulls a knife and tells the pimp "Men get one to the head, but a bitch like you dies like a bitch. How much did you want for her? How much?" He then stabs him and throws him into an already dug hole, which they fill in.
We next see that Mesrine has reconnected with Sophia. They dance before it shifts to a poker game where Paul announces that Mesrine got married. Mesrine tells the room "She's knocked up. What could I do?" Messrine is distracted by an unknown patron yelling at the bartender. He gets up to check it out and the man asks "Who are you? The owner? The fat whore's son?" Mesrine tells the bartender to serve them so they don't get angry. The man smirks while she pours them drinks. Mesrine then breaks a bottle in on of their faces and starts shooting one of the men in the kneecaps, breaking a glass on the other one's head when he tries to get up. Guido takes some money out of one of their pockets as they moan in pain on the floor, telling them it's for the drinks and the respect.
We skip to Mesrine in the hospital months later, waiting for his baby to be born. Guido waits with him, and tells him he may change now that he has a baby. Mesrine tells him "Times change, not men, and me, least of all." Guido asks him if he remembers "the cripple" referring to the guy in the bar he shot in the knees in the last scene. Guido tells him that the cripple sent two friends over to ask about Mesrine.Guido confirms that these were "serious friends." but reassures him that they can't touch him without his permission. Mesrine is thrilled when the nurse brings out his baby girl.
Later, at home, Mesrine arrives with armloads of presents for the baby, but Sophia seems angry. He asks what's wrong and she says "You were with your friends and whores, weren't you?" He says "Yeah, that's true." she starts storming off but he grabs her and says "You didn't let me finish.Yes, I was with my friends, so what?"
Sophia: No whores?
Mesrine: Why would I do such a thing when I have you?
He sings her a song and kisses her and she laughs.
Mesrine and Paul are planning another job, which Paul claims is easy as there are no vaults. Mesrine questions why he isn't going on the job, and Paul says he has to go with Guido. He agrees to do it anyway, despite misgivings about how easy it will be.
We next see Mesrine entering prison. We see his daughter coming in to visit. He tells her he's her father through the glass divider, and he's overjoyed when she say "papa" for the first time. Sophia is distraught because her parents told her to leave the country and come home to them. He tells her to call his parents and they'll help her, but he needs them to stay.
We next see Mesrine applying for a job, telling an interviewer he just got out of prison for armed robbery. The interviewer overlooks his horrible history and lack of references and offers him a job because he seems sincere. Mesrine has Guido over for dinner with his family, and Sophia mentions his steady job. Guido offers him a job, but he turns it down, saying Sophia is right. Guido tells him they can discuss it later. His boss soon approaches him about the possibility that he'll be letting people go. Mesrine assures him that he understands, although his boss insists he hasn't decided yet. The next day Paul and Guido meet him at his house and Sophia protests. He reveals that he lost his job, but she still insists he stay. He brushes her off again and she tells him if he goes, she'll call the police. This brings him across the room and he punches her, saying "there are things you can't say in front of me. Understand?" She slaps him and he chases her, putting his gun in her mouth and telling her "between you and my friends, I will always choose my friends." Their son appears at the top of the stairs, having seen the incident.
We then see Guido in a ski mask holding a gun to a man at a desk, while Masrine looks through files. The man tells Guido he recognizes him and says "Do you know whose file you're looking for? You're a dead man." Giudo calls him a traitor. The man tells him :The SAO is over,. It fell apart. DeGaulle killed us." Mesrine announces he found the file, and Guido kills the man. Mesrine asks "Why did you do that?" and Guido answers "To prolong my life expectancy." Mesrine says "He was unarmed. You don't do that." but Guido asks if putting a gun in your wife's mouth is ok, which Mesrine insists has nothing to do with it.
Mesrine and Paul are at another poker game. When Mesrine puts his wedding ring in the pot, Paul tries to talk him out of it, but he says that Sophia left, leaving him with the kids. Paul gives a chance to reconsider, but he insists. Paul wins the pot and Mesrine says "Well, fuck Sophia." Leaving the game he's fascinated at how his finger feels without the ring.
Mesrine walks into a bar alone. He's approached by a woman who asks him to buy her a drink. A woman sitting at a booth interrupts and says "Forget it Maggy. The gentleman is with me." He sits down with the woman and thanks her, asking her name which she says is Jeanne (Cecille De France) She insists on buying him a drink although he tells her it's usually the man that treats. "Well, that needs to change." she says. He responds "I'm ready for anything." and she says "So am I." The two of them are next seen enthusiastically robbing a casino without any disguises. Jeanne seems a natural, beating a guy with her shotgun. The owner knows Mesrine and tells him he won't get far. Mesrine just hits him with his shotgun, knocking him out of his chair.
We see Mesrine next, walking with his daughter. She has trouble bouncing a paddle ball. He leans down to help as a passing car shoots at them. His daughter ducks behind a car, and he fires back as they're driving away. He was shot in the arm and heads to Guido to get patched up bringing Jeanne with him. Guido asks Jeanne how far she'll follow him and she says "All the way." Guido advises them to "choose life" and leave the country until things settle down. Guido says "THe mob hates you, the cops want to kill you. Even I can't protect you anymore," Mesrine tells him "Yeah, but my kid? Fuck. THere are rules!" Guido tells him "the only rules are the rules of the jungle." Guido pulls out the bullet and says "Next time you draw. Shoot to kill." Mesrine agrees.
Mesrine leaves his kids with his parents and we see him working construction on a high building in Canada. He meets another guy who tells him "You're a dreamer, Frenchman. That's dangerous at these heights." and asks if he likes the job. Mesrine says that he preferred robbing banks in France. The man introduces himself as Jean Paul Mercier (Roy Dupuis,) "I help finance the Quebec Liberation Front." Mesrine is soon denied citizenship in Canada due to his record, but he tells Jeanne that it'll be fine, just a longer wait than expected. Jeanne tells him he only has to work for another work because she answered a billionaire's ad in the paper for a chauffeur and housekeeper.
Mesrine and Jeanne show up at the billionaire, Deslaurier's (Gilbert Sicotte) house. We see that he's in a wheelchair. He says "Jacques and Jeanne, my guardian angels. and tells them they not only have a job offer but a blessing for the job. Mesrine is shown later, carrying him into the car.
We flash to Paris, 1969 and we see cops on the street watching Guido's house. We see Guido and Paul inside, reading through mail. Guido shows Paul a postcard from Mesrine. A man gets out of the car outside, walks in, and shoots them both dead.
We see Mesrine and Jeanne at work. He's washing the car, while Jeanne is squabbling with the gardener.Mesrine appears ready to beat the butler, but Jeanne tells him it's ok. The two of them meet with Deslauriers, who tells them the gardener has resigned over the altercation. She claims he's a liar, but Deslauriers points out that he's known the gardener for twenty years and them for just a few months. He gives them two days to leave the property. Mesrine quickly agrees. That night they visit him in bed.
We see Mesrine and Jeanne watching TV, in a living room, while Deslauriers yells in the background. Mesrine loses patience with the yelling and confronts Deslauriers who is tied up in a room. He asks "What did I do to you, Jacques?" and he answers "You were disrespectful, Georges.To me, but mostly to my wife." Deslauriers insists that his brother will pay their ransom. We then see a meeting at a subway station, where Jean Paul Mercier waits, and it appears several agents are also present. At Mesrine's place, we see Deslauriers open the door of the room and crawl out calling for Jacques. We see Mesrine outside at a pay phone talking to Jean Paul, who says he doesn't think the guy will show. Deslauriers struggles and manages to break a window. We see the police taking him out in a stretcher as Mesrine and Jeanne drive by.
We then skip to Arizona, 1969 where Mesrine and Jeanne are in a high speed chase, followed by half a dozen police cars, only to realize they're headed for a roadblock. He tells Jeanne "End of the line baby. We're stopping." He stops and they quickly have every gun aimed at them. They surrender peacefully and get taken in, The papers announce "End of the road for Bonnie Schneider and Clyde Mesrine" They are extradited to Canada to face charges for the kidnapping. Mesrine is sentenced to ten years and Jeanne to five. In prison he refuses to accept his number, and tells a guard "Fuck you" when told there's no talking allowed for his first two months. This prompts a visit by the guards who beat him with billy clubs and drag him to a cell without a bed, with the lights kept on at all times. He covers his face with his shirt to try and sleep, but is commanded to remove it from his face. He refuses and they turn on a high pitched siren and flood the room with gas, before sending in guards in gas masks to beat him again and take his clothes. He receives a letter with his meal but the moment he tries to read it they turn off the lights. They next spray him with a fire hose, and tell him solitary is over, releasing him into population.
In the prison yard he takes note of the guard towers and examines the tall barbed wire fence. A fellow inmate, Roger Andre (Deano Clavet) advises him against thinking of escape. He also tells him that Jean Paul is in solitary as well, due out in two days. Mesrine's put to work in the prison machine shop and greets Jean Paul when he's released from solitary. Mesrine asks about Roger Andre. Jean Paul asks if there's a problem and Mesrine says he doesn't know yet. He tells Jean Paul he's figured a way out, and it's as simple as going through the fence. Jean Paul it's suicide, but Mesrine asks if he has a better idea. He says he doesn't, and agrees when Mesrine says "Before autumn, we're out or dead."
Mesrine asks Roger to get him some wire clippers, promising to free everyone if he gets out. He then shows Jean Paul a blind spot in the restricted area of the yard that the guards don't notice on Mondays, being too hung over. Andre sneaks some clippers out of the machine shop. In broad daylight, Mesrine rushes to clip the fence with Jean Paul as look out. He gets through one fence but has another to get through. Roger distracts the perimeter foot patrol guard by bothering his dog just before Mesrine is discovered. The warden, watching from inside the prison senses something wrong, but Mesrine gets through the fence and tells Jean Paul it's ready.and they scramble out and run. The warden calls an alarm, just as they leave, and they watch the news about their escape on TV later. Mesrine is thrilled that they remember he swore no prison could hold him and refer to him as a gangster who kept his word. He tells Jean Paul, who is busy with a woman. "Glory.:
They quickly begin planning a new bank robbery, Mesrine tells Jean Paul that they have to be in and out in 30 seconds. They rob one bank and then finding another across the street, they rob that one as well. They then prepare for another job, the two of them putting on camouflage, gathering some guns and a pick up truck. They head into the woods to meet with a woman Jean Paul knows, who also has a pick up truck. They tell her they won't be long, then drive to the prison. Roger sees the truck and says "Crazy Frenchy" realizing Mesrine is keeping his word about getting them all out.
The prisoners cheer before the tower starts firing warning shots, and a cruiser shows up to stop Mesrine. The other towers start firing on him as well. Mesrine and Jean Paul start firing back, taking out a few of them. Mesrine is shot in the leg while throwing something over the fence, which makes it get caught on the razor wire at the top. Roger's large friend Mailloche, runs for the fence to try and get the package down but gets shot by a tower guard. Mesrine throws a gun over to Roger, who takes out a few guards before getting shot. Jean Paul gets shot as well, but not fatally, and throws a grenade at a cruiser, blowing it up. They drive right through another cruiser that tries to block them. Mesrine asks Jean Paul, who's slumped over, if he's alright, Jean Paul tells him to step on it. They meet back with Jean Paul's girlfriend, who gets them in the truck. Mesrine throws a grenade at their own truck and they take off.
The newspapers announce that Mesrine is "Public Enemy Number 1" We see him in an office with a woman lawyer, Attorney Baron. We then see Jeanne being escorted to a prison phone for a call. We see Attorney Baron answer the phone and give it to Mesrine. Jeanne tells him everything is fine, but he insists it isn't, telling her he'll get better and come for her. He mentions that he's with Jean Paul and they have weapons. She tells him not to do anything as her sentence is almost up. He won't listen although she repeats the request. She says "Jacques, they know you're going to come. And, they're going to kill you. Understand?"
He tells her "No one kills me until I say so. I'm coming." He tells her to "stay ready." she says "It's over Jacques.We're over." and hangs up. On split screen we see him considering this, and Jeanne breaking down sobbing.
Mesrine and Jean Paul with his girlfriend head out in the woods for target practice. As they're leaving, a pick up truck approaches while Jean Paul is putting his pistol in the trunk. He grabs a shotgun, holding hit out of sight behind the trunk lid. Mesrine arms himself, telling the woman it'll be alright.Two men get out of the truck with guns and ask Mesrine if they've been doing all the shooting. Jean Paul claims he thought it was bird hunting season. The rangers tell them it isn't. One of them recognizes Mesrine as an escapee, and they're about to fire when Jean Paul and Mesrine fire first. Mesrine tells Jean Paul they'll get the chair if they're caught for this. Jean Paul reminds him of what he said in prison, "Out or Dead." Mesrine agrees "Out or Dead" and shoots the second ranger.
We then see text which reads "Jean Paul Mercier shot dead by Canadian Police two years later during a hold up"
"After the attack on the SCU by Mesrine and Mercier, an investigation on the conditions of the SCU prisoners was ordered. The Investigations findings lead to the SCU's definitive closure."
"Jeanne Schneider serves her sentence at Fleury Merogis Prison and spends her days in France, Free."
As for Jacques Mesrine, End of Part one."
What About it?
Mesrine:Killer Instinct: Part 1 is a pretty straightforward gangster film of the rise to power variety, often associated with American gangsters like Dillinger and Capone. Mesrine (pronounced May-reen) has been called "the French Dillinger" and it's easy to see some parallels. While the film is informed by Mesrine's autobiography, it doesn't attempt to be a documentary, nor does it attempt to paint Mesrine as any kind of Robin hood figure. Ultimately, he's a conflicted character and a natural opportunist. He has more than his fair share of charisma, and is willing to risk everything to get what he wants, but he isn't shown as heroic as much as confused. This film is the first of two parts, and is only concerned with establishing his character and getting him to Public Enemy number one status. That being said, it works very well as a stand alone film, giving us a very complete story with a hint of things to come.
Mesrine, unlike Dillinger, doesn't have the prohibition to aid his power grab. He does however, have some turbulent political times. He's clearly not happy with the French government or with his own family traditions. Although his parents dote on him, he clearly resents his father's lack of assertiveness, viewing him as part of the French problem. When he addresses his father about this, we get as much disappointment as anger. He tells him that all he wants is to be able to just once be proud of his father, rather than watching him take what he's given, never saying a word in protest. He has similar issues with his country it seems, and these are enhanced by his time in the brutal prison system. He soon starts proclaiming himself a revolutionary, although his political platform is limited to robberies it seems. It's impossible to know how sincere his belief is, and how much is purely for the benefit of his public image. His behavior suggests a gangster first, who is happy if any revolution occurs as a by product.
Mesrine is not a gangster out to lead an organization, and seems to lack a large plan, choosing instead to adapt to the situations that present themselves. He doesn't seem to know what to expect from his first meeting with Guido, only that he will demand personal respect and habitually distrusts authority whether from Guido or the law. In line with his "revolutionary" thinking, he also falls back on a personal code and rather than trying to take power for himself, once he trusts Guido, he's content to work for him. His standard MO is to work with a partner although in his line of work, his partner often changes. His flair for over the top behavior however, always makes Mesrine the "star" of his own show. On his first job we see Paul get nervous when the people they're robbing return home. Mesrine however doesn't miss a beat, before pretending they're cops investigating a robbery. His adaptability is his greatest asset and while it doesn't keep him from getting caught it does keep him coming back after every setback.
It does take Mesrine time to settle into the gangster role, initially trying to bounce back and forth between a family man and a gangster. He finds however that his adaptability is stretched to it's limit, when his wife perhaps can, but doesn't want to reconcile the two sides of him and refuses to back down from her demands. His need for respect drives him too far, and when she threatens to call the police, he beats her and holds a gun in her mouth, needing to "make an example." This ensures that she leaves him, and we see that his next girlfriend is not as much the storybook partner but his partner in crime. By that point, he's abandoned his "family man" ideas and is even willing to leave his kids with his parents once an attempt to kill him puts his daughter in danger. In a very real sense, he manages to "escape" the family life and focus on his criminal career, although his efforts to stay free and alive do bring lulls in his activity.
Mesrine's course of action is often changed by seeming chance, although he uses "chance" to justify his actions, his opportunism ever at work. We see Mesrine's first employer after prison broaching the possibility of lay offs, although making it clear that they're not definite. Mesrine however, jumps on the chance to justify another job for Guido, reasoning that he gave the honest job a shot, calling it quits before the outcome was really determined. We see this again when he and Jeanne are hired by the billionaire. For a time, the two of them seem happy doing the jobs they were paid to do. However, once he can claim the Jeanne was disrespected, he leaps at the chance to stage a kidnapping. Thus, he uses his moral code to justify his criminal activities, and he's delighted when the press calls him "the bandit who keeps his word." He not only believes, but begins encouraging his own press.
We see the problems with his code mainly when dealing with Guido. He questions Guido for shooting an unarmed man, and Guido logically compares this to Mesrine putting a gun in his own wife's mouth. Mesrine insists that the two incidents are not comparable, perhaps knowing that he wouldn't pull the trigger, or perhaps making a distinction between business conduct and personal. It isn't until later, when Guido is removing a bullet from Mesrine, that Mesrine actually listens to Guido's advice that "the only law is the law of the jungle." which he accepts, but nevertheless continues to paint himself as a revolutionary and an "honest gangster." Whether this is a remnant of his before crime values, or just a way he seizes to become more popular in the press, we don't know, although we do sense that his morals are flexible. We do get the sense that more than money, Mesrine celebrates being known, greatly enjoying his own notoriety. We end up with a portrait of a man who is capable of anything including cold blooded murder, but doesn't enjoy the act other than as a means to an end, or as "justified" retaliation. Which is not to say that he feels badly about it when it happens, as he doesn't seem to be bothered by any sort of guilt. His approach is very pragmatic. He imagines himself a businessman who uses the tools at his disposal but only when necessary, a robber first, who murders as a means to an end. His need for notoriety however only increases and his anti authority streak leads him further towards attempts at the impossible (planning to break Jeanne out of prison) as if he believes he is so remarkable that he warrants his own set of rules.
Director Jean-Francois Richet has crafted a great looking film, giving Mesrine's grimy world a glossy shine. Even without clothes in solitary confinement we know that we're looking at the world of a character who is larger than life. He focuses on characters memorably, giving each of them distinct personalities, not only by their performances but by the scenery attached to them, and the shots which introduce them. He clearly knows the look of a "gangster" and the conventions of the gangster movie. The scene introducing Jeanne for example, tells us before they really meet that she's a capable Bonnie to Mesrine's Clyde. The dialogue always feels authentic and the cast delivers wonderfully. Cecile De France is a magnificent Jeanne. We believe her when she says she's "ready for anything" and in the next scene she's robbing a casino without hesitation. We still believe her later, when she breaks up with Mesrine in prison to save his life. Elena Anaya's Sofia also has a terrific complexity, initially marked by the need to say no and give in later. She quickly evolves from naive to cynical, drawn to Mesrine by the same qualities she can't tolerate. Gerard Depardieu is perfect as Guido a man who is a gangster, but not so attached to the baggage that he isn't also a good friend. His introduction scene is a perfect example of how he plays with this knowledge, because he can. Vincent Cassel seems as if he were born for the part of Mesrine, reconciling all the characters contradictions to seem as if they make sense. We believe that they make sense to him, throughout the wide range of events he goes through.
In Mesrine, we have a confusing character, who values his independence above all else, yet can't go long without a woman at his side. While he makes his money via robbery, it never seems that money is his goal, Mesrine's overriding need is be important, and we can believe that he values a good headline even more than staying alive. For a man who doesn't want to answer to others, he needs their admiration and respect tremendously and will risk certain capture or death only to claim bragging rights if he lives. We watch Mesrine shed conventional attachments only to replace them with his own versions. In Guido, he finds a father figure he can respect, in Jeanne, a woman who can love him and celebrate his lifestyle. We don't believe that Mesrine is a true revolutionary. He has issues with his society but he doesn't pin them down or have allegiance to any solution. His revolutionary stance, seems true to form, a justification for his thrill seeking. He wants to make a statement but doesn't seem to know what that statement is. Nonetheless, he wants you to hear it while he tries figure it out. He comes across as a fully fleshed out human being, with bad days and good, swinging from reprehensible to almost decent at times. He can't keep himself from grasping for more, although he's as confused about what he wants as he is by what he has to say, and ends up a gangster well suited for our times, another guy that wants to be famous, but isn't sure why or what to do with celebrity other than to keep feeding it. All in all a great looking and exciting picture, with a smart script and top notch actors, which proves a worthy update to the gangster film lineage. I have to imagine that Dillinger would be just as lost if he lived in these times.