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Ten Word or Less Review: Solid opening lapses into chaotic mess.

This first part of an epic French gangster saga brings us the true life story of notorious criminal Jacques Mesrine, thug, thief, killer and kidnapper who operated in France and Canada in the 1960’s and 70’s.  Mostly unknown in the U.S., Mesrine attempts to bring to light the sprawling story of this notorious French criminal in two films.  They could’ve used 3 or maybe even 4.

This first feature, Killer Instinct, starts off on strong notes, emulating but not quite copying Scorsese’s epic crime scenarios.  Following the tried and true rise and fall of a criminal arc, Killer Instinct holds the audience in rapt attention, Vincent Cassel (Black Swan) holding the screen with fierce authority and macho showmanship.  But as this first part marches on, the story starts to slip away in a hail of important event overkill.  Whole years start disappearing between the scenes.  In just a handful of screen time Mesrine goes from being a criminal, to being married, to having a child, to going to jail, to getting out of jail, to being reformed, to lapsing back into criminality to hating his wife.  There’s no buildup to anything and the film slowly collapses in on itself as one major event proceeds another in a parade of narrative overkill.

By its conclusion Killer Instinct feels like a 4-hour movie which has been clumsily edited down to two.  The rushed nature of everything makes Cassell’s Mesrine feel less like a character and more like a thug having spastic, murderous emotional fits.  Part two of this ambitious endeavor, Public Enemy #1, supposedly plays better and when it appears in my Netflix queue I will see it.  But this first chapter ultimately feels like an ambitious but missed opportunity.

 

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