“I don’t want to spend my entire life dreaming. I don’t want to always think how I have to work half a year just so I could buy some thing.”
For the impressionable graduate, the Mesrine films offer an exciting world of alternatives to the grad scheme and the internship. Why sacrifice your left-wing ideals for the sake of massive financial gain when you can have both at the same time? The banks have caused us enough trouble as it is; why not loot two of them in the same heist? There is even the opportunity to travel the world, though you may wish to limit your choice of destinations to countries with a slow extradition process. However, the competition for employment in this rarefied profession is fierce, and a Frenchman named Jacques Mesrine boasts a CV that is far more impressive than your own.
Vincent Cassell stars as Jacques Mesrine, a French soldier returning home from the colonial war in Algeria to 1960s Paris. Upon being reunited with his childhood friend Paul, he embarks upon a lifetime of bank robberies, jailbreaks, hostage situations and gun battles. Mesrine’s criminal curriculum vitae is so extensive that director Jean-François Richet has had to create two excessively fast paced films to fully explore it; Killer Instinct, and Public Enemy No.1. Happily, Richet has come some way since his shoddy remake of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. Sixties Paris and Seventies Canada are well realised and solidly shot, and the pace with which the story progresses does little to harm the overall impact. Although the films have clearly been conceived as a whole, Killer Instinct borrows heavily from Jacques Mesrine’s personal account of events, L’instinct de Mort, a book he wrote whilst incarcerated. It is perhaps for this reason that the first film is more exciting, as it focuses on Mesrine’s astonishing rise from lowly Parisian gangster to international infamy.
However, the star of the Mesrine films has to be Abdel Raouf Dafri’s revised script and Vincent Cassell’s impeccable delivery of it. The dialogue is sharp, with several particularly memorable exchanges taking place, including the tense first encounter between Mesrine and Gerard Depardieu’s character, Guido. As Mesrine, Cassell’s ability to transform from friend, passionate lover or doting father into a psychopathic killer is frightening, and there are several scenes of utterly shocking violence. At the same time, he is eloquent and funny, a likeable rogue who knew how to court the media and gain celebrity status. While it would take a lot to beat his performance as Vinz in La Haine, Cassell is clearly on form here, and it is difficult to imagine that any other actor could be cast so successfully in this role.
For those who find themselves wondering, as I did, if Mesrine’s rampage could truly be the stuff of fact, I found this article in the Independent especially useful. As well as providing an account of events, it explores Mesrine’s role as a self-certified activist and cult icon, something that is intentionally referred to only briefly in the films. In fact, as the article notes, Cassell himself refused to accept the initial draft of the script on the grounds that it was too romanticised, only satisfied by the revised script from Dafri, who felt that “Mesrine was a clown.” However, in spite of this controversy, the Mesrine films are thoroughly entertaining, as fast paced, witty and exciting as any Tarantino film. Graduates, ignore the advice from your University careers advice bureau; when it comes to being an international playboy sociopath, you will need a CV longer than two sides.