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Based on the autobiographical book L'Instinct de Mort by Jacques Mesrine,  Mesrine is a two part movie based on the life of the French criminal who became the country's public enemy number one.

Part 1: Death Instinct, looks at Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) as he leaves the army and is reluctant to live a quaint life at home with his parents. Instead he looks for work with his friend Paul (Gilles Lellouche), who has a sports car, money to spend, and lives the life that appeals to Mesrine. Of course Paul works for local gangster Guido (Gérard Depardieu), and to live this life Mesrine must prove himself a worthy ally.

Mesrine Parts 1+2
For the majority of part one, the story doesn’t really deviate from what you’d expect. There’s plenty of violence, Mesrine meeting and marrying a pretty girl only to mess it all up because of his criminal activities, and obviously there’s the usual story of a master criminal's inability to put his ego to one side in order to avoid trouble. Cassel’s depiction of Mesrine bypasses the usual bad guy with a heart or the other cliché of having him as a total nutcase; instead Mesrine is shown as a simple bad apple. He has glimmers of humanity but generally he goes through life making decisions that depend on where the chip on his shoulder leads him.

Of course, as is the way with these stories, that chip leads him to prison and it's here the movie steps out of the shadows of the giants in the genre and starts to gain a personality of its own. For starters, there was something sort of enjoyable about how he’s treated whilst in solitary confinement. Yes, it follows the usual beating and other acts that these places conjure up, but the prison almost seems to taunt Mesrine. Switching off lights as he gets his one and only letter or contact with the outside world in weeks, soaking him down and ruining the letter as he finally gets the chance to read it, or simply turning on high pitch alarms to annoy him. These acts gave the prison a real personality and made the following scenes all the more gratifying.

Mesrine Parts 1+2
After his stint in solitary confinement and without it being too much of a spoiler, Mesrine decides to escape the prison. The simplicity of his plan and its execution is something to behold, especially in a modern movie climate where most prison breaks revolve around eight or so characters digging a tunnel or coming up with some elaborate ruse. Mesrine—without giving away too many of the more suspenseful details—simple goes through the fence... in the middle of the day. Simple and ridiculously ballsy but nowhere near as ballsy as when he attempts to break back in! Yes, that’s right, this escapee comes back loaded with weapons and tries to shoot his way back in order to break out the other inmates—of which he has no real friendship with and is really only doing to piss off the system. Now if that isn't a criminal deserving some infamy, I don't know what is.

As the first part comes to a close, Mesrine has become public enemy number one, and the close of the first chapter of his life story, leading us nicely into conveniently titled  Part 2: Public Enemy No.1.

Hitting the ground running, part two of Mesrine has our now famous criminal with a spring in his step. He’s cocky, smart-mouthed and pretty much carefree in his chosen career. All this is shown when he’s captured and during his court case busts out of the court room with the judge at gunpoint. Nothing can stop him, his ego continues to grow and other than the odd glimmer of regret, depicted with a final meeting with his father and a touching reunion with his now teenage daughter, Mesrine is committed to his life of crime and has resigned himself to the fact that the only thing that’s going to stop him is death.

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This latter part of Mesrine’s antics echo much of what Michal Mann depicted with John Dillinger in Public Enemies. A gangster who makes the police look inept just by the simplicity of his crimes. His crimes can be ones of chance, his face-offs with the authorities are frantic and his escapes usually involve his getaway vehicle getting a good knock, yet Mesrine, like Dillinger has the Old West outlook and persistence that warms the hearts of his followers in the media and make him big news.

As the story reaches its final acts and a much plumper, older Mesrine begins to get a darker outlook on his goals and even slips loosely into extreme political territory, the cracks begin to show. Like many infamous faces in history, age doesn’t sit well with the chaos that youth makes look so good and the story ends as you’d expect for France’s public enemy number one—bloody.

Mesrine proved to be a movie that won me over. The first half may have felt like a story I’d seen many times before, but the simplicity of many of Mesrine’s acts consistently had me overwhelmed by the fact that this was based on a true story and these things actually happened in some shape or form. That alone made for vastly entertaining viewing and while there was nothing particularly fresh to this epic crime drama, Vincent Cassel’s lead performance and many of the players around him drew me in and kept me onboard for both parts of the story.

Mesrine Parts 1+2


Both parts one and two have a thoroughly impressive look to them, despite standard definition’s limitations. Colours are strong and for the seventies era, part two looked vibrant. The transfer offers deep blacks and very realistic skin tone presentations with hints at good detail levels and some good lighting to make everything look that much better.

As expected with the twenty year period covered, the style of the movie shifts as the years move on and the contrast of the beige, fairly bright seventies period when lined up with the earlier sixties blues and greys, shows a great deal of variation in the palette and how well the transfer presents.

Of course this being a basic DVD means the image is not quite as sharp as we’ve grown used to with Blu-ray and many of the scenes hint at great things on the HD format, but all in all this DVD was a fine presentation.

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While not fully immersive, Mesrine’s 5.1 Dolby Digital track shows off when it needs to. Gunfights sound impressively natural, and when the track needs the rear speakers to up the ante it manages it all well with atmospherics filling the track and providing quite a dynamic uses of the speakers and creating quite a spacious feel.

Dialogue is well presented with a nice level of bass to some of the louder ‘conversations’ and more dynamic scenes keeping a firm hold of what the characters are saying amongst the mayhem. While much of the score compliments the goings on without taking over, some of the musical tracks can feel a little like their struggling to be heard in places and outside of a few exceptions this is really the only fault I found with the track.

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Disc one and two come with trailers for District 13: Ultimatum, Go Fast and a Mr. T Snickers ad and both parts of the movie come with making of documentaries that run just under fifty minutes each.

The making ofs are well paced and come with plenty of insight from the stars and director as well as plenty of on-set footage and details about the real Mesrine.

Lastly disc one comes with a trailer for the movie (01:30)

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Mesrine took a while for me to warm to it, but with Cassel’s performance growing in charm and this true life story throwing incidents at me that even the best screenwriters couldn’t make up, I was soon onboard.

The DVD throws a good presentation at us and some worthwhile features to boot. So all in all, if you like a good crime epic and one that’s well paced and well crafted, you may want to give Mesrine a whirl, if only to see how simple it is to break out of prison.