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Mesrine: Killer Instinct (L'instinct de mort) (2010)



Average Rating: 7.4/10
Reviews Counted: 68
Fresh: 56 | Rotten: 12

It's undeniably uneven, but Vincent Cassel's electrifying performance makes Mesrine: Killer Instinct a gangster biopic worth seeking out.


Average Rating: 7.3/10
Critic Reviews: 25
Fresh: 19 | Rotten: 6

It's undeniably uneven, but Vincent Cassel's electrifying performance makes Mesrine: Killer Instinct a gangster biopic worth seeking out.



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Average Rating: 3.8/5
User Ratings: 20,194

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Movie Info

This tough and gritty French-language crime drama represents the premier installment in a two-part series of features on the life and doings of notorious Gallic hood Jacques Mesrine (1936-1979). Mesrine is played, in both installments, by actor Vincent Cassel, who reportedly underwent massive weight gain and weight loss to convincingly portray the volatile Mesrine at various periods of his life. Director Jean-François Richet begins in 1979, with Mesrine's uncommonly violent death, whereby he and

Feb 22, 2011


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All Critics (68) | Top Critics (25) | Fresh (56) | Rotten (12) | DVD (2)

Four hours of French gangsters may not sound like a cinematic joy, but with Euro-star Vincent Cassel in the lead role, the movie is utterly hypnotic.

August 12, 2011 Full Review Source: Arizona Republic
Arizona Republic
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The effect of Richet's hyperventilating filmmaking is akin to that of an extended-play trailer.

January 21, 2011 Full Review Source: Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It captures the rush of crime as a way of life for a man who did and took whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, simply because he could take it.

October 7, 2010 Full Review Source: Miami Herald
Miami Herald
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Cassel is a gifted actor, but he doesn't have enough to grab on to. Read more:

August 27, 2010 Full Review Source: New York Daily News
New York Daily News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Cassel, who took the best actor award at France's equivalent of the Oscars for this role, is compulsively watchable.

August 27, 2010 Full Review Source: Dallas Morning News
Dallas Morning News
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Much of it plays like an unintentional mash-up of the numerous wrong-side-of-the-law sagas that preceded it.

August 27, 2010 Full Review Source: Washington Post
Washington Post
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Mesrine: Killer Instinct is a triumphant gangster film. It's exhilarating throughout thanks to a masterful performance by Vincent Cassel and some expertly staged action scenes. Comparing this one to Goodfellas would not be a stretch.

November 9, 2013 Full Review Source: We Got This Covered
We Got This Covered

Rollicking, epic, and the more riveting, more entertaining half of this two-part epic.

January 16, 2013 Full Review Source: McClatchy-Tribune News Service
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

In the moment it's thrilling stuff, but strung together over hours it becomes clear that [Richet] has absolutely nothing to say about Mesrine.

January 11, 2011 Full Review Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Metro Times (Detroit, MI)

... crackles with tension and violence, driven by [Vincent] Cassel's powerhouse performance.

December 6, 2010 Full Review Source: Sacramento News & Review
Sacramento News & Review

This masterpiece combines the best of 'Scarface,' 'The Godfather' and 'Bonnie and Clyde'. Vincent Cassel tackles the demanding lead role and is simply magnificent. There is no shortage of action, violence and ...

October 29, 2010 Full Review Source: Entertainment Spectrum
Entertainment Spectrum

It may not capture the fullness of the man?s life, but it does effectively capture his presence.

October 8, 2010 Full Review Source: Las Vegas Weekly
Las Vegas Weekly

...a stylish gangster flick with lots of action and a super cool, larger-than-life anti-hero at the center...

September 24, 2010 Full Review Source: Playback:stl

French actor Vincent Cassel blows the doors off this bio.

September 20, 2010 Full Review Source: East Bay Express
East Bay Express

A macho good time. The rebel without a cause finds out that wartime training with guns has its advantages.

September 16, 2010 Full Review Source: Monsters and Critics
Monsters and Critics

As suave and stylish as its subject, the film is a tour de force of craft and performance, a portrait that captures the spirit of Mesrine in every frame.

September 7, 2010 Full Review Source: Moving Pictures Magazine
Moving Pictures Magazine

Cassel's magnetic performance is utterly wasted.

September 3, 2010 Full Review Source: St. Paul Pioneer Press
St. Paul Pioneer Press

Despite the graphic violence, Cassell creates a memorable character, perhaps as memorable as the real man he portrays. Elena Anaya stands out as his mistreated wife.

September 2, 2010 Full Review Source: Tolucan Times
Tolucan Times

Vincent Cassel deserves better scenery to devour.

August 30, 2010 Full Review Source: Slant Magazine
Slant Magazine

The film around its riveting central performance may be a little more flawed than the entire project's international reputation would have you believe but Vincent Cassel alone makes a trip to Mesrine: Killer Instinct worth the time.

August 29, 2010 Full Review Source:

To play this larger-than-life character, Richet casts a similarly magnetic performer, Vincent Cassel, an actor who combines the explosive intensity of a young Pacino with the slow-burning restraint of a young DeNiro.

August 27, 2010 Full Review Source: DCist

The film offers a close, nostalgic approximation of classical Hollywood gangster cinema.

August 27, 2010 Full Review Source: Critic's Notebook
Critic's Notebook

Audience Reviews for Mesrine: Killer Instinct (L'instinct de mort)

Killer Instinct is the story of notorious criminal Jacques Mesrine who progressed from petty crime on the streets of Paris to become Canada's public enemy number one. Kind of like a Gallic Goodfellas, Mesrine is based on a real gangster and similarly spans decades of his life. Vincent Cassel puts in a quality performance as the charismatic psychopath who became a media sensation in the early 1970s and although he is hardly the most likeable protagonist, his outlandish acts are consistently both entertaining to watch and quite incredible to believe. There are some quality set pieces, the scene in which he and his partner single-handedly attack a maximum security prison in which they were both tortured is a particular highlight. It is a little episodic and it lacks the depth of characterisation that draws you fully into this kind of life story, but it is always exciting to watch and I am very much looking forward to Part Two.
July 22, 2014
xGary Xx

Super Reviewer

The first of the two part "Mesrine" films, this is much more of an introduction into the life of the titular character than it is a true crime biopic. It shows the life leading up to his infamous prison break and subsequent crime spree. Real life criminal Jacques Mesrine led a long and interesting life, starting in the French Army, stationed in Algiers. With the army training him in torture and murder, Mesrine rose through the ranks of the criminal elite early, embracing friends and colleagues in order to become a petty thief and armed robber. Throughout the film we see Mesrine struggle with trying to keep his family together, and when he becomes unemployed, we see the destructive rage and violence he can enact on his loved ones. There's very little empathy or understanding in Vincent Cassel's performance as the troubled crook, hell-bent on sustaining himself through crime. Not only that but he is a survivor of a corrupt prison, a runaway, a thief, and a madman. Throughout the film we see the steady incline from low level criminal to the raving hellion he comes to be. Great performances from the women of the film as well, including Anaya as his beaten down wife, and De France as his companion Jeanne, following him on a spree through the United States after a foiled kidnapping in Canada. The plot moves quite fast, so some life events feel hurried and not completely covered, which is to make room for the impending sequel, "Public Enemy # 1." Though I don't think this should have been a two part film, it's very interesting, and all performances are crisp, never even tempered, and awash in gritty violence. This man is beyond interesting, both a rogue maniac and a survivor in most respects, making this a great watch.
March 16, 2014

Super Reviewer

Mesrine: Killer Instinct is one of the best crime dramas that I've seen in quite some time. The film is based on the real life of Jacques Mesrine, a notorious French bank robber and murderer who became France's Public Enemy Number One. the film which stars Vincent Cassel in the lead role is phenomenal and looks like the real guy. The film tells about his rise in crime, and how he became one of the most wanted criminals in France's history. Gerard Depardieu also stars and both men are terrific in the film. Mesrine is an accomplished Crime film that is only rivaled by Martin Scorsese's finest genre films. The film is riveting in its execution, and the performances are top notch. With this first part of Mesrine's story, we get to see why he was revered by the public, but really he was a cold blooded criminal that was a menace to society. Director Jean-Francois Richet crafts a stunning gangster film that will delight genre fans. The film is raw, gritty and ugly. Mesrine was not a figure to admire, and director Richet captures that aspect perfectly. Brilliantly told, and with a strong performance in the lead role, Mesrine: Killer Instinct is a taught drama that never glamorizes the exploits of the infamous Jacques Mesrine. If you enjoy the genre, give this film a shot, you will surely enjoy it. I found the film to be very entertaining and well executed. Crime films are hard to do, mostly because the ideas tend to be overly clichéd and slightly predictable. However here, since this film is based on real events, it makes for a highly engaging film going experience that is unflinching because the story of Jacques Mesrine is quite interesting, and this film, along with its second half strips away the Robin Hood quality that the Press of the era gave him.
October 17, 2013
Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski

Super Reviewer

Stereotypes die hard.

Now, I haven't seen enough French films to place valid stereotypes on the entire French film industry, but from the few that I've seen, I would say that these are the stereotypes:
- Extremely gritty and dark. Unafraid to get into every nook and cranny of its dark universe, but doesn't always have emotion, thematic, moralistic, or artistic substance to back up its bold embrace towards the dark.
- Plot points always involve some sort of taboo-breaking violence or sexual act for the sake of shock value and nothing more.
- Almost always a gangster film.
- Focuses so much on realism that artistic value takes a back seat.

"Mesrine: Killer Instinct" matches every stereotype mentioned but considerably fails to immerse audience members in its narrative and characters. It's gritty and bleak, coupled with an emotionally disattached narrative and borderline taboo-breaking violence. I'm all down for dark films -- as a matter of fact, I embrace it. But when a film decides to portray a gritty tone, there's gotta be a reason behind it other than for style. This has been my number one griping issue with many of the French films that I've seen. Killer Instinct is no different, in fact, worse compared to other French movies which leads to my biggest issue with this film: The direction.

Killer Instinct's narrative shoots out in a very linear fashion. Nothing wrong with that, as long as its commanding throughout. As the scenes roll along, I began to realize that Killer Instinct does just that: It shows sequences of events with no opinion, no emotion, no siding, no themes, or no morals. It tells it as it is. In other words, there's zero substance found here other then the portrayal of the actual plot points. As one would probably say, "This is a biopic. It isn't fictionalized and the director isn't trying to add in anything that isn't part of truth." I understand that. Regardless, there's nothing movie-goers could take into account other then the disturbingly soul-blotting violence and the extremely one-dimensional narrative. Let's say the director's choice to be respectful to these actual events didn't bother me -- still doesn't make up the fact that Killer Instinct's narrative is extremely uneven. On certain occasions, tension's boiling at an all-time high, and on other occasions, it becomes dreadfully dull, making me question why I wanted to watch the movie in the first place. If you've heard or read about the true story of Jacque Mesrine, you're not getting any additional insight in this true story if you watch this film. The only thing it may accentuate is the gravity of violence that Mesrine enacted.

Killer Instinct was a complete mess. Direction got increasingly bad, the narrative holds no grounds other then events recorded on a timeline, and the film gives no effort to immerse movie goers. Hey, Vincent Cassel's one beast actor, but even he couldn't lift this film to higher grounds. You can probably say, it was a bad move for him to be involved in this project; he trusted the bad instincts (sorry... horrible pun super intended). Killer Instinct boasts a dark tone with a riveting story, and at moments, you may be sitting at the edge of your seat, but by the end, you'll be wondering what the point of the film was and end up not caring to figure it out. This is one empty film.
August 13, 2012
Albert Kim

Super Reviewer

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Foreign Titles

  • Mesrine: Killer Instinct (DE)
  • Mesrine: Killer Instinct (L'Instinct de Mort - Public Enemy Number One - Part One) (UK)
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