There are lots of elements which are common to virtually all gangster movies – including guns, violence, bonding and rivalry, but most of the also seem to feature a scene set in a casino at some point. One of the reasons why this is the case is that so many of the gangster films are set in Las Vegas – including Casino by Martin Scorsese and the Bugsy Siegel biopic starring Warren Beatty. Gangsters and organised crime are central to the story of Las Vegas, and therefore of casino gambling, making the two a natural fit in movie terms.
It should be remembered that Siegel actually created Las Vegas, thus the mob ties to the resort – although now purely historical – are extremely strong, and this naturally makes an interesting subject for filmmakers. Realistically you can’t have a film in Las Vegas which doesn’t feature at least one casino scene, but even those which don’t take place in Sin City usually have one. Again the reason for this is partly because in other cities gangsters have often competed over running the casino gambling industry – while of course casinos also provide a glamorous and exciting backdrop, as well as a metaphor for the risk involved in crime. Part of the enduring popularity of casino gambling is that it provides the law abiding amongst us with a taste of that risk.
It was widely predicted at one point that the rising success of online casinos would lead to the death of land-based ones, but in fact the two coexist very comfortably. After all both allow for classic games such as roulette. However in terms of movies, the land based casino is always going to be king, with the great casinos in cities like Vegas still having that Hollywood magic.
Having never heard of Jacques Mesrine prior to watching the first film in director Jean-Francois Richet’s two-part epic on the real-life French gangster, it seemed a little presumptuous that his story was so fascinating that it warranted being stretched across two movies. As “Killer Instinct” demonstrates, Mesrine certainly led the kind of storied criminal career that makes for an entertaining gangster tale, but the film is so disjointed that you’ll wish Richet would have just cherry-picked the best moments to create a more focused biopic. After opening with a cool and cleverly edited introduction that teases Mesrine’s eventual demise, the film tracks back to the beginning of the story to show how he got there, including his time as a soldier stationed in Algeria, his early years as a petty thief under the guidance of a ruthless crime boss (Gerard Depardieu), and his incredible prison break from a maximum-security penitentiary in Canada.
It’s a lot of information to cram into two hours – especially when you consider he has three different romantic relationships that all played a role in shaping the man he would become, even if one of them seems to blossom out of thin air. And then there’s the fact that this is only half of the story, with the second part, titled “Public Enemy No. 1,” scheduled for release next month. “Killer Instinct” is definitely captivating enough that you’ll want to see what happens next, but it also feels like a cheap trick to get you to pay twice for what ultimately should have been one movie. It’s not quite good enough to rank among the best gangster films, but thanks to Vincent Cassel’s career-best performance as the title character, it’s one that fans of the genre will want to add to their Netflix queues immediately.
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