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.