The two-part French crime opus Mesrine (released as Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One) was one of the most under the radar pieces of cinema from 2008. Completely fantastic and totally riveting, the sprawling films took a cue from gangster Jacques Mesrine’s autobiographical book L’instinct de mort, while trading off of well-worn genre conventions that were artfully spruced up by underrated director Jean-Francois Richet (this year’s superb pulp thriller Blood Father, the 2005 remake of The Assault on Precinct 13). Starring Vincent Cassell in a towering performance as the titular character, there’s an epic sweep to the 60’s and 70’s-set narrative that never loses sight of some fine intimate details, while the superb supporting cast, including Gerard Depardieu, Cecile De France, Ludivine Sagnier, Michel Duchaussoy, Gilles Lellouche, Myriam Boyer, Mathieu Amalric, Olivier Gourmet, Roy Dupuis, and Elena Anaya, truly came to play in every single moment. Robert Gantz’s stark and vibrant cinematography captured all of the bloody violence and live-wire passion that Mesrine’s life brought forth, and because Cassell was so laser focused on the work, you become totally engrossed in his character despite him being a fairly reprehensible person. Critics made apt comparisons to Brian De Palma’s Scarface, as both films certainly share some of the same operatic flourishes, with the script by Richet and Abdel Raouf Dafri balancing the business and personal dealings of their larger than life criminal with great ease. Richet won Best Director at the Cesar Awards, and Cassell won Best Actor.