This is a review of the Blu-ray version (Parts 1 & 2), which together form a biopic of French armed robber Jacques Mesrine from 1959 to 1979.
At 247 minutes for the combined parts, you might need to plan well in advance to watch this highly-rated biography of an egotistic but popular criminal of the 1960s and 1970s, but the time passes quickly - especially the first part. As a Blu-ray presentation it was a waste of extra money and the standard def version is all that's needed. As a story it would normally be regarded as absurd, particularly the multiple prison escapes, but the reality is that most if not all events covered actually did take place, this being a true story (or at least, it's based on true events). It could be likened to Bonnie & Clyde in many ways, as for the most part it shows bank robberies, escapes, and more bank robberies - with a police force eventually fronted by one man determined to bring the target down.
Vincent Kassel, as the leading man Mesrine, totally carries the film, and very convincingly so. He becomes something of a Robin Hood-like anti-hero, despite killing a lot of people during his robbing sprees, and when he eventually becomes France's Public Enemy Number One, he relishes his fame and wants to hang on to it. He is outrageously brazen, not only escaping from prison but then keeping a promise to return to that same penitentiary to help some of his former inmates escape too. In between heists he comes over as a genial, larger-than-life character who if he had led a crime-free life might have built up a huge social circle of friends and admirers, but having chosen the murderous life that he did, his life-style is inevitably one of loneliness due to relentless moving around to escape recapture - and he wasn't always successful at that.
It's very good, and although there is no English audio version as yet this barely spoils the entertainment. There isn't a great deal to it, however, outside of Mesrine himself, with fellow armed robbers and girlfriends popping up and then disappearing along the way. To be fair, the film is all about him and it most definitely is just that, but there's a slight shallowness to the story; it's not documentary in style but it is, ultimately, a dramatic portrayal of the key points in one man's twenty-year criminal career with nothing more of substance to it than that. It's vital, therefore, that Kassel holds our interest for four hours - no mean feat - and he does manage to do that, helped somewhat by some very impressive physical changes that reminded me slightly of RAGING BULL with Robert De Niro. At the beginning of this film, Mesrine is lean and fit, but twenty years later he is packing the beginnings of a pot belly and his overall body shape has bulked up all round. I can only assume that Kassel put on quite a few kilos for the latter stages of the film, because it didn't look like artificial body padding.
So while it's undoubtedly good and definitely worth seeing, I have to confess to being a touch disappointed that it wasn't as special as I had expected it to be. It's worth buying, because I can imagine it being watched more than once, but to be objective about it, it's no classic and as is so often the case with films based on true stories there's something of a dramatic vacuum that is filled (and filled well) with the staging of several real-life events, and that often comes at the expense of a thought-provoking script or multi-layered story-telling, both of which are absent here if truth be told. But that's to take nothing away from Vincent Kassel, he IS Mesrine and he is the film, he's always magnetic in presence and while he's probably a little bit more likeable in the film than Mesrine was in real life, he still makes for great entertainment.