Mesrine: Killer Instinct / Public Enemy No. 1 (‘L’Instinct de Mort / L’Ennemi Public N°1’)

CRIME DRAMA; 1hr 53min / 2hr 13min (French with subtitles)

STARRING: Vincent Cassel, Gérard Depardieu, Elena Anaya, Cécile De France, Ludivine Sagnier, Mathieu Amalric

Heroes and villains: de France and Cassel

After a soul-destroying tour of duty in the French Army in the 1950s, young Jacques Mesrine (Cassel) comes home to his tidy, middle-class parents as a hard and cocky case. Being disinclined to work as a lacemaker, he slips into gangsterhood like a duck into a muddy pond. And this being the suave Monsieur Cassel, he looks pretty flash-rat sharp while he’s about it, pulling dirty jobs for a crime boss (Depardieu) arguably even meaner than he is. A well-meaning wife (Anaya), a baby daughter and a stint in prison for armed robbery seem to set him straight. But not for long: as the man ultimately known as French Public Enemy No. 1, Mesrine is a sociopathic killer with the steely charm of a straight razor.


Jean-François Richet’s direction of this ripper two-parter (adapted from Mesrine’s 1977 autobiography by Richet and Abdel Raouf Dafri) is more nimble than literal, skipping through decades as its flagrant antihero parlays thuggery into nose-thumbing performance art. He becomes a tabloid star, makes his lethal way to Canada and the US, cops more jail time, breaks free and in 1979 at age 42 — as is coolly revealed in Killer Instinct ’s opening scene — meets a suitably dramatic end. It’s a jaw-dropping story and a slick, fierce Cassel has Mesrine covered throughout with an acute understanding of what makes a man like him run-and keep on running.