Viewed – 23 Jan 2010 Blu-ray
Vincent Cassel could probably be called France’s answer to Robert DeNiro, with a lengthy career in some of the country’s biggest (and often) most controversial movies. Many will probably however know him from David Cronenberg gangster flick Eastern Promises, as well as Oceans Twelve & Thirteen. He’s definitely one of my favourite foreign actors. This time, in arguably his most high profile role, he plays the part of real-life career criminal Jacques Mesrine, a former soldier in the Algerian army who on returning home finds it difficult adjusting to a normal life living with his parents and holding down a day job, and is soon lewered into a life of crime, under the guidance of local gang boss Gerard Depardieu.
This first movie in the epic life of one of France’s most notorious criminals, plays as a straight forward gangster story as our anti-hero goes from heist to heist, bedding women, fathering children and being flung in and out of prison – all the time living on his witts. Despite several instances where he tries to ‘go straight’, it’s not long before he’s involved in another crooked deal, and for me came across as a very ballsy, reckless man with little respect for anyone but himself. Yet with Cassell, he still makes what should be an unpleasant character, likable, as he oozes charisma and screen presence in the grand tradition of Al Pacino out of The Godfather, a movie this most closely resembles.
Directed with skill and no end of style by Jean-François Richet, this is both absorbing and entertaining, that although violent at times, never reaches Goodfella’s territory, and is mostly restrained, which I think goes in its favour – this is a character piece afterall. At times I did lose track as the years fly by, and even what country Mesrine was in sometimes was left a little vague, yet this has plenty of raw intensity, quality acting (including a very good Gerard Depardieu), and some powerful moments … leaving me thirsty for part 2.
Verdict: 4 /5