In a nutshell this film is superb. Take your time to view both parts. Avoid watching all 4 hours in one go. Vincent Cassell is without question one of the best actors in modern times. His dedication to the part is absolute. Backed up by a cracking supporting cast,script and direction, this is like a good meal, to be consumed by relishing every morsel and savouring all the flavours. I had never heard of Jacques Mesrine until I saw this film and now I wonder why not. This is a story that at times beggars belief. Did this really happen? Did this guy really exist? Oui! Et Oui encore!! This is a film you will see and want to see again. So, worth every penny. I won't say anymore. Judge for yourself and ...if you are put off by subtitles then get over it now!! Mesrine is a reminder of what really,really good cinema is about.
I read a little bit about Mesrine before going to see this movie so knew a little on the background of this in advance. The storyline, the direction, the production and above all, the acting (not just Cassel), is second to none. Vincent Cassel plays the part of Mesrine with an ability that is normally only credited to actors such as De Niro. Indeed, the way Cassel is able to say so much and in fact, change the entire mood of a scene, with just an expression is certainly reminiscent of Mr De Niro. Apparently when Mesrine was at his crooked peak in France, he became something of a pop-icon, anti-hero for the disenfranchised people of Paris. This is depicted beautifully in this movie because, despite his abhorrent crimes, there is something incredibly cool and likeable about him. I have to take my proverbial hat off to the makers of this movie (and part 2) for making such a thrilling ride from start to finish. Like one of the other reviewers say, this sounds long at 2+ hours but each scene is action packed. If you want a break from the usual boil-in-a-bag hollywood movies, do yourself a huge favour and buy this.
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.
As Mesrine, Vincent Cassel convinces me he belongs with De Niro and Pacino. The two-part film is fine directorially and the actors do their jobs expertly. But Cassel dominates every scene (holding his own with Depardieu, whose noblesse oblige restrains him, it seems to me). And Cassel carries the weight successfully. Richet supports him with powerfully naturalistic detail and cinematography. The screenplay, although it stands up nicely scene by scene, does not transcend the episodic structure to create an entirely successful unity. The character of Mesrine is the only significant unity. Cassel carries the film, as De Niro does his section of Godfather II and Pacino, Scarface. But they were working with stronger directors and screenplays.
Vincent Cassel gives a charismatic performance as Jacques Mesrine, the real-life gangster and French Public Enemy No. 1 during the 60s and 70s, as the second part is subtitled. It is quite episodic, but the episodes are brilliantly handled, and shot with aplomb. In the first part he spends quite a long time in Canada, where he is in a high security prison and is subjected to very brutal treatment. The film does seem to address this issue; but generally it avoids - as such a film must - ever telling us exactly how many people he killed in his bank robberies. There are a number of scenes here, most notably when he goes back to the Canadian prison, where more bullets are fired in five minutes than in any other film I've seen. In that case, the guards were severely compromised, it's true, but the film never sets the adventures it shows against the death toll, even though we see him in court. Instead, that scene is played for laughs as he dances round the judicial system and plays the clown. Although he is shown to be violent and a megalomaniac, the balance is not right. This is partly because of these omissions, and partly because he is amusing enough in some scenes, or tender enough, for us to feel that we are seeing a "complex" character. A number of big-name actors pop up along the way: Gerard Depardieu, Ludivine Sagnier, Mathieu Amalric and Olivier Gourmet all add to the appeal.
Like all films of its type, this one is pretty corrupt, really. It glorifies what it shows, even though his nasty end is shot in grisly detail in an effort to show, after all, that crime doesn't pay. But when you've spent over 3½ hours showing his exploits for the thrills and spills, this seems a bit hollow as a moral point. The film is in thrall to him, really, and he was no Robin Hood; he had no regard for people's lives, while thinking he had some kind of morality. This kind of cinema corrupts the viewer, or moves in that direction, and always has done. It makes people more coarse, ironic about violence, uncaring. When you see what it is that is being traded on, and how much popular appeal it has, you can only wonder whether the world wouldn't have been better off without films at all.
Whilst this is a superb portrayal of Jacques Mesrine, well acted, however, not faithfully told nor completely accurate, it is further let down, monumentally, in part 2 by the risible depiction of London, which has clearly been shot in and around Paris, with the police officers swinging their batons, which London police officers certainly would not do either in 1978 or at any other time, and the Parisian style newspaper kiosk with de riguer seller in flat cap speaking 'English' with a french accent. It seems hopelessly stupid to include such a pathetic piece in an otherwise excellent film...they could have got it right but for some reason let it go.