But I digress. You only have to wrap your peepers around stuff like Nikita, Leon or Tell No One to see that Monsieur Francais knows his oignons when it comes to constructing a finger-chewingly tense chase scene or a tautly edited shootout.
Such mastery of nail-bitery is the second-biggest reason to watch the Mesrine films, L’Instinct De Mort and L’ennemi Public n°1. Now pay attention, here comes the history bit: Jacques Mesrine was a French gangster, bank robber, kidnapper, murderer, jailbreaker and all-round tinker, who charmed the French public into seeing him as a modern-day Robin Hood, an honest bandit, despite being - by all accounts - a complete and utter bastard.
This two-part film version of Mesrine’s autobiography is little more than a series of episodes in his life, with little to connect them or explain or justify his actions, but it’s directed by Jean-François Richet with such joie de vivre, savoir faire and coq au vin that you can’t help but get carried away with it all.
The first-biggest reason to watch these movies, however, is Vincent Cassel, who plays Jacques Mesrine in a series of increasingly crackers hairpieces and improbable moustaches. In fact he runs the hairy gamut from neatly-trimmed short back and sides to full-on Dave Lee Travis.
Cassel gave the almighty Viggo Mortensen a run for his roubles in Eastern Promises, but as Mesrine he burns up the screen like a chip pan fire, demanding your attention with a searing performance and a mug that looks like he sleeps with his face in a vice while goblins pull his features in random directions. Apparently there are other actors in the Mesrine films but Cassel ensures that you absolutely will not be distracted from him and his magnetic presence.
When the makers of the Bond films ask me who they should cast as the next villain, I’ll be giving them Vincent Cassel’s phone number. He’s got exactly the right amount of arrogance and physical presence to give Daniel Craig something to worry about, and a sufficient level of foreign dastardliness which is an essential quality when applying to be a Bond baddie.
So in summary: Mesrine: L’Instinct De Mort = Great. Mesrine: L’ennemi Public n°1 = Not as great but still great. Vincent Cassel = Incroyable!
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