Thursday, 13 August 2009

mesrine part 1 killer instinct (d. richet; w. mesrine & dafri)

The biopic. Currently the French seem to be churning them out. I've missed Coco Before Chanel, but the promise of Cassel, one of the great screen actors of today, lured me in to see Mesrine. That and the self-avowedly boy-sy subject matter. Gangster flicks seem more attractive in French.

The opening shots give the appearance of a film that looks like it knows what it's doing. Split screen, Cassel in some kind of fat disguise, a bubbly French chick. But at the same time, whilst the sequence appears to be suave and composed, not a lot is actually disclosed here, a tension is summoned and then more or less exhausted as the titles roll. Then the action jump cuts to a lean young Cassel, with a neat tache, in Algeria, and its all hand held cameras and a kind of Gaspar Noe tension. Then Cassel's back in France and the journey to becoming public enemy number one begins in earnest. And continues. And continues. Mesrine seduces a pretty woman with his gallic charm. Then another. And another. And so on. Mesrine uses his gallic charm to get out of a scrape. And again. Mesrine kills someone. And again. And then he does it in Canada.

It feels as though there's two main problems with Mesrine, Killer Instinct (if we discount the corny title). The first is the curse of the biopic: a script which sprawls, trying to grab all the best bits and thereby only succeeding in diluting them. So you end with an insipid trawl through the protagonist's life, with no narrative focus and a steadily declining return of interest. Secondly, it doesn't look like Richet really knows what kind of a movie he wants to make. At moments there's an adventurous Scorceseian camera, roving round the room, implicating menace or emphasising mood. But these are against the grain, and on the whole it's conservatively shot, with static, slightly theatrical set-ups. Add to this the issue of the script's (and perhaps Cassel's) desire to have Mesrine played all ends up - lconic charmer, psychotic nutter, a family man who has no qualms sticking a gun in his wife's mouth. Again, there's a suspicion that those concerned have been watching Scorcese, including Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Casino, but Cassel's portrayal has none of the 'he's-going-to-lose-it-any-moment' of Scorcese's protagonists. Cassel is always too cool, too in control.

Mesrine has been critically lauded, spoken of in the same breath as Riffifi and Cercle Rouge and other iconic crime movies of French cinema. It doesn't deserve to be. Mesrine, Killer Instinct never succeeds in throwing off the shackles of the biopic, as though it's hobbling along with ankles chained and wrists hoping one day to be released from the cuffs.

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