By Doug Brunell | October 12, 2012

Vincent Cassel is Mesrine, a one-time soldier and big-time gangster in this film based on a biography written by the title’s namesake.  It is a brutal, mesmerizing work, but it also feels like a letdown in some areas.

This film, which is part one of two, details the beginning stages of Mesrine’s criminal life.  Each job gets a little bolder, each stint in captivity a little more serious.  Assaults.  Bank robberies.  Kidnapping.  A prison break (and subsequent attempt to break everyone out in a bloody return trip).  Mesrine does it all… while at the same time being a father and husband.  It’s a fascinating look at a French criminal who became Public Enemy Number One, but that’s also where the film fails.

The reasons why Mesrine turned to crime aren’t quite clear here.  It just sort of happens.  Mesrine leaves the military and comes home to live with his parents, who have lined up a job for him.  One night on the town makes Mesrine choose a life of crime.  You can tell he enjoys it, but when the opportunity arises to take another normal job, he does so, leaving crime behind him.  That moment is a bit more understandable, as is his eventual return to the streets. 

The initial reason behind his criminal bent never gets examined, however, and that does undermine the story somewhat.  I haven’t read Mesrine’s book, so I can’t speculate as to whether or not that is covered there, and nor have I seen the second part of this film yet, but it seems like this should have been touched upon.

Don’t let that keep you away, though.  This is a stylish gangster movie, and those are always fun to watch.  The violence feels real.  The characters, even at their worst, are people you can care about.  And Cassel’s performance is jaw-droppingly good.  He becomes Mesrine and proves he is one of the craft’s best actors.

On to part two…

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