Thursday, 3 September 2009

Crackers Hairpieces And Improbable Moustaches

If there’s one thing the French do well, it’s knocking out a good action sequence in a movie. Actually there are several things the French do well, including making wine, being generous with garlic and confusing foreigners by signposting a town from 200 kilometres away only to remove all signs pointing to that town within a 5km radius of its centre, thereby throwing the visiting driver into a sheer vertical panic because he thought he was doing quite well at this driving-on-the-wrong-side-while-reading-a-funny-language malarkey only for his destination to apparently vanish off the face of the Earth at the last minute.

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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  1. In the current Politcal Correctness world I thought all film villians had to be white & fit Englishmen, the only category of person on earth not entitled to complain of racist, sexist or cultural abuse. "Welcome to the party pal" as Bruce Willis said in Die Hard.

    Vincent Cassel is ruled out on all counts.

  2. Yeah but no but look at Mads Mikkelsen and Mathieu Amalric. White, yes. Men, yes. English, no. The last decent English Bond villain was Sean Bean, and he was meant to be Russian.

  3. Has it been dubbed into English or will I miss the action sequences whilst reading the subtitles?

  4. It's not dubbed, it's subtitled, which is a good thing because dubbing is what the devil does in his shed at weekends. You won't miss the action because people don't say much while they're flinging cars through Paris at high speeds ;-)

  5. Part 2 left me thinking that Mesrine himself was a complete knob with no idea about how to stay out of trouble and an overwhelming ego. The final pay off is a sort of "Well, what a surprise! Actually, it couldn't have happened to a nicer bloke." And wasn't it soooo Frénch!/ But I totally agree. Cassel is very charismatic and demands attention.

  6. Anon, quite right there on the knob front, as it were. And yes, it was very French. They must try harder in Part 3.

  7. I went to see the two parts back to back on the big screen and -- phew, it was definitely worth it: four hours of actual *cinema*! Cassel is an actor par excellence, no doubt, hope he maintains his standards. (Ocean's 12/13/... should be wiped off the face of the Earth, right?)

  8. Liking your style Mr K. Keep your eyes on The Incredible Suit this Friday when I reveal where Monsieur Mesrine resides on the only Best Of 2009 list that matters! And the latest, as it happens.