If I move, kill me
Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy #1, French crime saga in two parts, rated R, in French with subtitles, The Screen, 3 chiles Jacques Mesrine (1936-1979) was the French John Dillinger of the 1970s. Known as the man of a hundred faces for his ability to disguise himself, he made an art out of bank robbery, kidnapping, and murder. He got caught up in the aura of his celebrity near his end and began claiming that he was robbing banks as a political statement (hardly true). But despite an outer charm that won over the ladies and impressed other men, he was a cold, calculating criminal whose cocky, confident attitude suggested that he could find a way out of hell if need be.
At least that’s the impression you may get while watching Jean-François Richet’s two-part biopic Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy #1. (The films play in two parts, on separate nights, at The Screen.) Shot back-to-back in 2007 and 2008, this roughly four-hour epic covers the slow rise and very quick fall of a man who reportedly said, “No one kills me until I say.”
And then, one day late in 1979, somebody — a lot of somebodies, actually — killed him. Whether it was an assassination or a killing in self-defense remains unanswered (the question is whether Mesrine reached for his gun when a cadre of coppers surrounded him), but it’s how Richet chooses to opens the story. We quickly get the point: crime may pay for a while, but when the tab finally arrives, there will be blood.
Mesrine was a daring man, going all out to rob two banks on the same street within the span of minutes and taking part in a two-man suicidal attack on a rural prison in an effort to free the inmates (some of whom were his former peers). He claimed to have killed more than 40 men, and he crowed about escaping from at least four prisons. He pulled off a startling courtroom escape once in France, and he even had the authorities in Canada and America chasing him for a while. One of the films’ few laugh-out-loud sequences involves Mesrine and his moll racing
Gunsmoke gets in your eyes: Vincent Cassel, left, and Gilles Lellouche