Vincent Cassel’s Top 10 Films
Vincent Cassel is an award winning French actor who is best known outside his home country for his role as the laser-dodging thief ‘The Fox’ in Ocean’s Twelve, and his string of foreign antagonist roles in films such as Derailed and Black Swan. Possibly one of the finest French actors working today, he is more than what his American roles would suggest. Here are 10 of his best…
Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, La Haine is a hard-hitting, grittily realistic film which explores the lives of three young hoodlums (played by Cassel, Hubert Kounde and Said Taghmaoui) living in the French ghetto. After a friend of theirs has been badly injured by police during a riot, Cassel’s character vows to kill a policeman if he dies. The film explores the anger, antagonism and racism shared between the police and the youths. Stylishly shot in black-and-white, La Haine is both gripping and depressing. Cassel excels in what may well be his best performance; there is not one minute where he does not look the part, where you do not believe his character.
A worldwide success, Brotherhood Of The Wolf (original title Les pacte des loups) stars Cassel in one of his best roles as the incestuous, deformed villain. The story takes place during the French Revolution, when Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) is called upon by the king to investigate a series of brutal animal attacks in rural France. The animal is a beast, rumoured to be a huge monstrous wolf that somehow has a connection to the Morangias family, especially, it turns out, to the son, Jean-Francois (Cassel). The film has a large budget and features some great cinematography and costuming. All the performances are good and martial arts star Mark Dacascos (playing a mostly silent Native American) has some brilliant fight scenes. But it is Cassel, as Jean-Francois, who delivers the best performance. He manages to deliver a villain who is both weak and menacing and, towards the end, utterly repulsive. Plus, the final fight scene between him and Le Bihan is endlessly cool.
Prior to their marriage, Cassel and future wife Monica Bellucci starred in this twisty romance (which was later remade in America as the inferior Wicker Park, starring Josh Hartnett). Cassel plays Max, a young man who, at the start of the film, leaves his fiancée to chase after a girl he recognises in a restaurant. He finds instead her best friend, Alice (Romane Bohringer) who has styled herself to look like his old girlfriend, Lisa (Bellucci). Through alternating points-of-view and flashbacks, the film then unravels towards its rather shocking conclusion. Max is a rare romantic lead role for Cassel who, if a little stalkerish, offers a refreshing alternative to his usual gangster/psychopath persona.
Mesrine is a two part biographical gangster epic directed by Jean-Francois Richet and starring Cassel in the title role as Jacques Mesrine. Part one details Mesrine’s return home after serving in the Algerian war. He soon becomes seduced by the quick money of the criminal world and chooses to become a gangster, pulling off a heist with his girlfriend (played by Cecile De France) and then escaping to Canada, where he begins to gain worldwide notoriety. Part two sees Mesrine escaping from jail and then being declared Public Enemy No.1. He returnsto a maximum security prison where he writes his memoirs (upon which the films are based). He then escapes again and taunts the police, becoming a media savvy, celebrity criminal. Cassel won a Cesar award for Best Actor for this role and he certainly embodies the character, even gaining an impressive amount of weight for the part.
A highly controversial and hard-hitting film expertly directed by Gaspar Noe, Irreversible is told backwards (similar in a way to the style of Nolan’s Memento), going from a horrific first half to a happy second, which leaves the audience with more unease and horror than if it had been told chronologically. We are first introduced to Cassel’s character as he is escorted from an S&M club after beating a man to death. It is slowly revealed that his girlfriend (Monica Bellucci) was raped earlier that night by a man named ‘The Tapeworm’. The rape scenes itself lasts an excruciating eight minutes and, along with the brutal bashing in of a man’s head at the start, it is the reason for the film’s infamy. Irreversible is a shocking and disturbing film, and whilst it is hard to sit through and impossible to recommend, once seen, you will never forget it.
Emmanuelle Devos stars as an almost deaf office secretary named Carla who hires paroled ex-convict Paul (Cassel) as her assistant. Carla is awkward, ignored and unappreciated by her bosses/co-workers, and she soon finds herself attracted to her new intern, despite his past. Not just a hesitant romance, the film is also a crime thriller, as Carla uses her lip-reading skills to help Paul in a heist. Both leads are completely believable and the film is saturated with sexual tension. The plot is also tense and well-paced, with a nail-biting ending.
One out of the two English language films on the list, Eastern Promises was directed by David Cronenberg and it deals with the Russian Mafia in London. Naomi Watts plays a midwife who delivers the baby of a 14-year-old Russian girl, who then dies. She leaves behind a diary which details how she was brought to England, and the abuse and rape she suffered at the hands of Kirill (Cassel) and his father, played by Armin Mueller-Stahl. Drawn into this seedy underworld, Watts is helped by Kirill’s driver (Viggo Mortensen, in a deservedly Oscar nominated performance). Cronenberg is an excellent director and Eastern Promises is one of his best films. Though the film belongs to Mortensen, Cassel is a very close second. His Kirill is similar to Jean-Francois in Brotherhood Of The Wolf: menacing but weak, pure aggression one moment and a blubbering wreck the next, but Cassel plays Kirill so deftly that he emerges as the most interesting character in the film.
Again directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, Crimson Rivers is a psychological thriller set in a rather isolated university town in the French Alps. It stars Jean Reno and Cassel as two cops (one old and cynical and the other young and impetuous) who have come to investigate the brutal murder of the university’s librarian. From then on, they become entangled in a convoluted plot involving Nazis and inbreeding, amongst other things. Apparently a lot of what had been filmed never made it to the final cut, and that is why the plot makes so little sense, but Crimson Rivers is still an entertaining and atmospheric film, and it’s nice to see Cassel playing the good guy for a change.
Cassel stars as Yann Le Pentec, otherwise known as Dobermann, in this stylish, frenetic and violent film by Jan Kounen. Yann, his deaf and mute girlfriend Nat the Gypsy (Monica Bellucci) and the rest of his motley gang are criminals who, after a brutal bank robbery, are hunted down by a ruthless and sadistic cop played by Tcheky Karyo. The direction of Dobermann is best compared to Tarantino, but is more hyper and fast-moving than Tarantino’s work. The violence is wince-inducing on occassions, such as when a character’s head is scraped across a road from a moving car, and those with a weak stomach should avoid it. Cassel and Karyo both give entertaining performances and there’s plenty of energy and over the top visuals. A sequel is rumoured to be in the pipeline.
Blueberry (also known as Renegade) is directed by Jan Kounen and is based on the French/Belgian comics of the same name. Cassel plays the title character Mike Donovan (a.k.a. Blueberry) who is haunted by memories of the death of his first love, which is shown in flashback during the film. As an adolescent, he was taken in and cared for by the Apache Indians and he now keeps the peace between them and the white Americans. Straight to DVD and marketed in America as a traditional western, Blueberry is far from that. Highlights include a trippy CGI peyote sequence towards the end where Cassel spiritually confronts villain Michael Madsen. All performances as good, even if Cassel’s American accent leaves a lot to be desired. Its strangeness alone makes it a must see for Cassel fans.
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