Machete and Mesrine: two peas from different violent pods

This weekend film fans in the Twin Cities can enjoy a different kind of M and M at the theaters: “Machete” and “Mesrine:Killer Instinct.”

The first is the latest tongue-in-cheek gorefest from Robert “Planet Terror” Rodriguez, and the second a much-lauded bio-pic about the real French hoodlum who terrorized both his homeland and Canada for a couple of decades.

Both delight in their blood-soaked tales, but their impact is very different.

“Machete” which first appeared as one of the gag previews in the Rodriguez/Tarantino “Grindhouse” B-movie homage, follows the exploits of a former Mexican Federal police officer, played by Danny Trejo, the actor with one of the most fascinating faces in modern movies.

As his name suggests Machete prefers blades to guns when he is out chasing bad buys, and Rodriguez makes sure his hero has an endless supply of sharp objects to slash, stab, and chop his way out of trouble.

It’s a bizarre tale about how Machete, on the run in the US after a Mexican drug lord wiped out his family, gets mixed up in a Texas-sized border dispute dreamed up by a racist state senator (Robert De Niro) with the help of Von (Don Johnson) who leads a vigilante group patrolling the border. Machete falls in with “the Network” which tries to protect Mexicans working along the border, and the stage is set for battle.

It’s a goofy, completely over-the-top story which allows Rodriguez to use big name actors to have fun with B-movie stock characters (Jessica Alba, Lindsey Lohan, Cheech Marin, Steven Seagal, and Michelle Rodriguez all appear.)

This is a world where machine gun toting women in leather bikinis head into battle with an army of low-riders bouncing down the street; where elected officials have themselves video-taped while committing capital offences; and where Machete, who is apparently impervious to all sorts of hideous wounds, is also irresistable to young women a third of his age. I think we can guess which demographic is the target of this film.

It’s a lot of silly fun, if this is what suits your mood.

Jacques Mesrine is not that dissimilar from Machete in many ways, except he has no illusions of being on the right side of the law, and he’s a real person.

A violent thug with a flair for the dramatic the real Mesrine’s career spanned two decades and three continents, rising from small-time burglar to gaining the title of France’s Public Enemy No. 1. He did this through multiple murders, kidnappings, bank robberies, prison escapes and his association with various terrorist organizations. The media became obsessed with him, a fascination which proved mutual. He wrote a best-selling autobiography, and in later life went out of his way to grant interviews to major publications including Paris Match.

Vincent Cassel carries off the title role with deceptive ease, from Mesrine’s almost naive entry into the criminal life, developing over the years to the suave gangster sophisticate. He maintains tension with his underlying capacity for sudden anger and violence, which can explode a friend or foe alike.

Mesrine story is long and complex, so long that it’s told in two films (“Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1″ opens in the Twin Cities next week.) It’s also told in a fleeting style, with director Jean-François Richet moving quickly from incident to incident, and character to character, leaving little time for reflection. However the tale is so long this almost pointillist approach gives us a larger impression of a dangerous renegade. Mesrine saw himself as a revolutionary struggling again the system committing what he saw as victimless crimes.

We know it’s going to end badly for him. Richet opens both films with clear clues as to how it will happen. Yet the director tells Mesrine’s story in such a way that we can examine the evidence of Mesrine’s self-propagated legend for ourselves, and determine if there is any substance to Mesrine’s worldview.

As with Machete, a host of other stars fill out the cast, including Gérard Depardieu, Mathieu Amalric, and Cécile de France, although they are each charged with bringing real people to life.

So two views of brutal violence, one played for shock and laughs, the other played for art and pathos. They share a great deal, but probably won’t share audiences.

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