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Sunday 17 April 2011

Top 5: Vincent Cassel Performances

I recently saw Notre Jour Viendra, which stars Vincent Cassel. He is one of my favourite actors so I expected a good performance, but I was impressed at just how great he was, this caused me to put together a short list of Cassel's Five Best Performances.

Cassel is definitely one of the best actors of his generation. He's been one of France's most acclaimed actors since his breakout performance in Kassowitz's La Haine, but he's only come to the American's attention recently, with Black Swan, his performance in that though was far from his best, in fact he was terribly miscast in a poor attempt to interest European viewers in my opinion.

But that aside, here are my five favourite performances of his:

1. As Jacques Mesrine in Mesrine: L'Instict Du Tueur and Mesrine: L'Ennemi Public Numero 1.

A role which required some of the finest method acting skills put to use in recent memory. Although he bears little resemblance to the actual Mesrine, Cassel makes the role his own and is ultimately extremely convincing. Even while sharing scenes with other excellent actors such as Gerard Depardieu and Mathieu Almaric, Cassel never steps out of the spotlight and succeeds in creating a very interesting and complex character, at times arrogant and despicable, and times so charismatic one cannot help but like him, it truly is a performance that you won't forget.
He gained a lot of weight for the role, in true method acting tradition, but it's not just not just his physical performance that is fascinating to watch, it's the fact that his character is constantly changing, veering between borderline insanity and likeable anarchy. He is at times cocky and arrogant, yet at times shows a certain intelligence and view of life which is very compelling. But the scenes that takes place in the prison we also see a different, near broken, version of the man, and when he leaves prison nearly broken but not quite, we realise that he is stronger than ever before. And this leads to his anarchic spree and increasing fame with the public, which could only end one way for him. Violent death.

*It is for this performance that he was awarded the following awards: Etoile D'Or for Best Actor, Lumiere Award for Best Actor, Cesar for Best Actor.

2. As Vinz in La Haine

This was Cassels breakthrough performance and remains one of his finest, even though he went on to do Mesrine which is his best, this performance remains nonetheless a perfect portrayal of an angry young Frenchman seeking to lash out against his oppressors. Although who these oppressors are exactly and how he will lash out are somewhat vague, he is still driven by a fiery anger and despite being very charismatic comes across as rather ignorant, very arrogant and at times thuggish.  But he ultimately redeems himself and proves he is not really a murderer, just a young man angry at the injustice in which he lives and the lack of opportunities he's had in life, seeking to change it the only way he knew how. This just makes the end of the film even more tragic.

3. As Patrick in Notre Jour Viendra
A film I watched only very recently, which was rather overlooked by those in the US and other countries despite receiving a fair amount of praise here in France.
This is such a strange performance, the motivations of the character are left unclear throughout, even though he gets up to some pretty wild stuff. This film will puzzle you with it's constant twists and turns and shifts in tone. Yet I enjoyed it, mainly because of Cassel's performance, it was wonderfully unhinged, bordering on insane, he was some kind of red haired troublemaker who seems to suffer from extreme shifts in moods, he is fascinating to watch.

 4. As Kirill in Eastern Promises

This is a very impressive performance, if only for the language aspect, Cassel is French, yet in this film he alternates between English and Russian with ease even though ,either of them are his mother tongues.
His character in this is probably one of the most unlikeable in his career, he is slimy and untrustworthy, although he isn't without the usual amount of charisma Cassel always brings to his roles. But he wasn't exactly the star of the film here, both Viggo Mortensen and Naomi Watts received far more screen time than he did and also gave fantastic performances. I suppose Cassel's dedication to this role is what impressed me. He was surprisingly convincing as a member of the Russian mob based in London even if he wasn't the most obvious choice for the role. And like so many of his characters, he sort of redeems himself in the end.

5. As Paul in Sur Mes Levres 
Jacques Audiard's films have a certain something that really allows the actors to give excellent performances, one just has to think of Mathieu Kassowitz in Un Hero Tres Discret, or Romain Duris in De Battre Mon Coeur S'Est Arreté or more recently Tahar Rahim in Un Prophète. And that's without even mentioning the supporting actors or the actresses!
Cassel isn't exactly the main character here, but he does a great job nonetheless as the former criminal trying to start a new life. He comes across as a likeable guy, which shows his capacity for playing villains and hero's. Not a particularly challenging role compared to some of his other work, but Cassel gives the best possible performance he could have.

An honourable mention goes to his performance in Les Rivieres Pourpres.
A pretty average film made watchable by his performance, Kassowitz skilled directing and an interesting score. Hasn't got much else going for it though I'm sorry to say, and Jean Reno's performance certainly doesn't help, he is such a bland and quite frankly boring actor, I just don't understand the praise he receives.

And a mention must also go to his appearance in the upcoming Croenenberg film, A Dangerous Method, he only appears as a supporting actor, but I think he will be great.

I thought that while I'm on the subject I might as well mention the other Cassel, his father, Jean Pierre Cassel, a famous and very talented actor in his own right. His performances were very varied and he worked with directors such as Jean Pierre Melville (L'Armée Des Ombres, alongside Lino Ventura) Luis Bunuel (La Charme Discrete De La Bourgeoisie) and René Clement (Paris Brûle-t-il?, alongside Belmondo and Delon), before sadly fading away into countless TV films.

What are your thoughts on this actor? Overrated? Best of his generation? Just Ok?
Share your thoughts below!

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