This Quebec-made gangster movie is based on the true story of “Machine Gun Molly”, a young woman born on the wrong side of the Main who made headlines in the 1960s during a spree of bank robberies. While not quite glorifying the notorious criminal, the film does attempt to make us understand that Monique Sparvieri’s choices were limited. For this uneducated girl to overcome poverty, the easiest ways were basically to turn tricks or to find a man. She did whore herself out in seedy drinking holes and back streets and through most of her life, she always used and was used by men.

There’s Michael (Frank Schorpion), a Scottish safecracker who gave her nice things (including two kids) but always put his “career” before her. Small time crook Gaston (Patrick Huard) might have been the only one who truly loved her but he didn’t turn her on, only reluctantly allowing her to tag along on some jobs. At the complete opposite of that is Gérald (Roy Dupuis), Monica’s sexy and dangerous last lover with whom she conducted daring hold-ups until the cops and a blaze of bullets finally caught up to her…

This is the feature film debut of Pierre Houle, who honed his skills while directing a lot of TV series. His work here calls to mind early Scorsese, like a cross between “Mean Streets” and “Boxcar Bertha”, minus the religious overtones – which is odd considering the extent of the Church’s influence in Quebec at the time. Luc Dionne and Sylvain Guy’s screenplay covers a lot of ground, not only following Monique for about a decade but also giving a distinct feel of Montreal in the Red Light years. Some stretches feel superficial and some dramatic shortcuts are taken with the characters, but Houle manages to keep the movie dynamic and consistent nonetheless.

“Monica la Mitraille” features a who’s who of local stars clearly having a blast playing it mean and dirty. Beside Dupuis, Huard and Schorpion, there’s Rémy Girard, wonderfully sleazy as kind of a poor man’s godfather, Isabelle Blais, as great as ever as Monica’s cousin who daydreams of being a singer but spends her nights being pimped out by her no good boyfriend, and funniest-man-in-Quebec Marc Labrèche, toning it down and giving a strong, multi-layered performance as Monica’s father.

Last but not least is Céline Bonnier, tough yet touching in the title role. She’s that ordinary girl who becomes extraordinary for all the wrong reasons, but you can still feel that there’s a vulnerable young woman behind the badass façade. The whole picture rests on Bonnier’s shoulders, and it’s her heartfelt and charismatic turn that assures it’s gonna be a big hit.