Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mesrine (Part 1): Killer Instinct

"Mesrine: Killer Instinct" makes a fundamental mistake that undermines it: it overuses bank robberies and gunplay. In a good "gangster pic," these elements are spread out, so that they are exciting when they occur. Otherwise, what you get is a plodding film, and that is exactly what "Mesrine, Part 1" is. It is also filled with cliches, iffy editing, a good score by a first-time composer (Eloi Painchaud) that quickly becomes monotonous, and topped off with an okay-ish title performance by Vincent Cassel, who plays the same type of role much better in "Read My Lips" by Jacques Audiard, which isn't particularly satisfying (and not Audiard's best), though it still manages to be better than this film. Cassel works best when he's "brooding" (as the critics have said). The only sequence where he does particularly well is when he's having a breakdown in solitary confinement (filmed very well), but that's not a particularly challenging arena. And to those who champion his work (which won a Cesar award for Best Actor), I direct you to the particularly histrionic scene where he confronts his father before leaving home.

This is a film that, like it's predecessor/film-that-helps-market-this-one-to-American-audiences, "Public Enemies," has very few successful sequences, although it has some nice devices and, as my friend said, very good cinematography (by DP Robert Gantz). The scenes that at first come to mind as working (if only working moderately) are the ones at the very beginning. The first (which shows how cliche this film is, even in structure) shows, with much split-screening, Mesrine's death while performing some sort of job. This is very controlled, as it is the credit sequence, and lends to the notion that this film might end up actually working, despite the fact that it ends rather strangely. The next scene is an execution scene in Algeria, where Mesrine is serving in the army and is forced to shoot someone. It is a well done, built-up sequence (with a good choice of low-quality photography in this case), though I'm not entirely sure I like it either, because these sorts of scenes are rather overused. But, again, I would chalk one up for Jean-François Richet.

The film then starts experiencing the problem that some felt (though not me) "The Secret In Their Eyes" did: only surface or "kiddle pool" (to quote Keith Uhlich) depth. It follows Mesrine's clubbing and descent into crime (with a robbery similar to one in Campanella's film), led by his friend Paul (Gilles Lellouche, who has a very small screen presence, especially as the film progresses). Paul brings him to his mob boss, Guido (Gerard Depardieu), who first takes him for a "stray dog" and learns otherwise rather fast.

He also meets and marries a Spanish gal named Sofia (Elena Anaya), who the film, in its cliche way, lights first in red and proceeds to show, once married life is underway, in dull browns. During their time together, we switch back and forth betwixt crime and life, before the inevitable collapse happens and these parallels no longer are drawn. Finally, he settles on a wife that will go with him "all the way," Jeanne Schneider (Cécile de France), whose role garnered the film comparisons to "Bonnie and Clyde" (although "Killer Instinct" is nowhere near that film in quality), and, once he moves to Quebec from France, he finds a new partner, Jean-Paul Mercier (Roy Dupuis), whom he meets at a construction site.

The film is, as my friend said, continuously violent, but being this way doesn't by default make the film good, which may have been the thinking of Richet. In some instances, such as the moderately exciting but very drawn out end (or, as my friend thought, the "stabbing scene"), it can be gratuitous. This is all the more highlighted by the fact that, as my friend said, the film does not have enough "down time." This is a major part of why the film is dull.

I'm also unsure, as a friend was, of how faithful the film (adapted from Mesrine's memoir "Killer Instinct") is to his life, and it would have an effect, though not a large one on my perception of the film. It seems at first a good idea to, as my friend said, to take liberty, but if it does more than a certain point, it loses its value as a document, which I think is something that the film has going for it. This is because, on purely an entertainment basis, it doesn't do very well. I would have been more receptive to this film if parts of this film had been made by people as Youtube videos. If that was the case, I might have been impressed. Otherwise? No.

I'm feeling like Ebert does about zombie and "fetish" movies here: are gangster movies just good as just gangster movies anymore or do they need something of a twist? Unless they're particularly well-made, I think the latter (though that might not even be the case).

I can say that I doubt I'll be seeing "Mesrine Pt. 2: Public Enemy Number One" when it bows next week. Although The Playlist says it is superior, I don't think it'll be worth another 10 bucks (on top of the money spent on the first half). If I'm truly that curious, I'll go on Wikipedia and read the synopsis, instead of risking sitting through another film like "Killer Instinct." C

No comments: