Mesrine: Public Enemy #1

Deftly picking up the narrative from Part 1 without so much as a recap, this is not a sequel so much as a conclusion of Jacques Mesrine's life story. While it is strong enough to exist on its own, audiences would be well advised to see this only after watching the first part.

At the start of this chapter, Mesrine is already well established in the French media as a raffish rogue, ennobled to the public by his daring prison escapes, and enjoying the trappings his notoriety more than the life of crime itself. The opening act sees a capture by the police, the inevitable bold escape from which leads Jacques and the audience on a prolonged road trip as he continues to elude the authorities. Once that journey eventually exhausts his attention, it's back to high profile kidnaps and courting the media – a path that can lead to no good, and one that ultimately brings the audience inexorably back to the first scene from Part 1, and the last of Mesrine's life. Once again, Cassel is on blistering form throughout this, dancing from “Charismatic Media Whore” to “Grotesque Monster” in the blink of an eye, seemingly without qualms about his sometimes absurd metamorphoses, chin-strap beard included.

The film is a bit more Cat-and-Mouse than the former, so we are allowed to spend time with the increasingly frustrated police force, and by the time the credits roll you may find yourself less certain about which side to root for. It's refreshing these days to see a biopic follow the full length of a man's life, rather than just a specific chapter from it, and the combined 2 parts of Mesrine have done that deftly. A rare achievement in itself, hampered in no way by the consistently high production values and acting calibre – miss it at your peril.
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SECOND OPINION | Tom Roberts ***½
Public Enemy No. 1 picks up straight from where Killer Instinct left off. French gangster Jacques Mesrine – “that's 'Mey-reen' to you, unless you want a bullet in your skull” – has just robbed a pair of banks. His notoriety is soaring, and unfortunately for him, the bank teller he thrust his piece at recognised him, so it's off to the slammer once again. Of course, Jacques escapes and the cat-and-mouse, cops-and-robbers games begin once again. The first hour or so is entirely familiar, as Jacques robs banks and casinos before skedaddling from violent flurries of gunfire. At times, the film begins to feel like a parody of itself as yet another car rear window is shattered by bullets. But with fame comes the police special forces and even the army, and so Jacques finds himself in the hands of the authorities on two more occasions. Oddly the cops bung him in a prison even less secure than his first, and inevitably he escapes yet again.

With each escape, Jacques' arrogance swells and eventually turns into downright self-obsession. He relishes every mention of his name in the media. When he's designated public enemy number one, it's time to chink whiskey glasses and start celebrating in earnest. To top this Jacques decides to become a revolutionary but his quest is merely the peak of his delusion. Mesrine is a hateful figure throughout both films. On occasion in Public Enemy No. 1 he shows his tender underbelly – the family man that abandoned his parents and children shines through. But, this is where the second part falls down: in Killer Instinct we saw Mesrine growing into a monster as he juggled his wife and kids with hedonism. In part two he's just like so many other gangsters: Public Enemy No. 1 doesn't offer anything particularly new that we haven't seen before in Killer Instinct or other gangster epics. As a whole, Mesrine is a slick tale of one corrupt man's rise and inevitable downfall, that can stand proudly alongside Scarface or The Godfather trilogy. Public Enemy No. 1 needs to be watched to complete the experience, but trimming both parts into a single three-hour epic should have been the way to go. You'd feel less fleeced that way but it's fitting: this a gangster flick after all.

Official Site
Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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