Jean-François Richet’s cinematic diptych about the infamous French gangster Jacques Mesrine—Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy #1—will make its way to New York this week and next, after both a lauded Festival run and critical and box office success in France. (Cassel and director Richet both won France’s coveted Cesar awards for their work.)

After serving in the Algerian War in the 1950s, Jacques Mesrine became an internationally-known fugitive over the next two decades, robbing banks and kidnapping billionaires in Canada, the U.S., and his homeland. His particular survival skills included elaborate disguises—he was known as the Man of a Thousand Faces—and escape: he masterminded his way out of a penitentiary, a courtroom, and a prison, each in its own spectacular way. He was eventually gunned down in Paris by a police task force created just for him in 1979, leaving behind a string of glamorous women and several children.

With Vincent Cassel—familiar to American audiences from Eastern Promises, Ocean’s Thirteen, and Elizabeth—leading an all-star cast including Cécile De France, Gérard Depardieu, Gilles Lellouche, Roy Dupuis, Ludivine Sagnier, Mathieu Amalric, and Gérard Lanvin, the films are a worthy addition to the gangster genre; American audiences should flock to the films, which evoke 70s genre films like The Godfather and The French Connection.

The two pictures trace different stages of Mesrine’s life: Killer Instinct covers the Algerian War through his gangster days in the 1960s, and Public Enemy #1 considers his life as a “celebrity”—Mesrine penned a bestselling autobiography called Death Instinct during a 1977 prison stay, which attracted the media, whom he teased and charmed for much of his remaining life.

We recently caught up with the very charismatic Cassel to discuss the film, his dramatic weight gain for the part—in which he ages over 20 years—and his take on the career of Gérard Depardieu.

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