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Mesrine: Public Enemy Number 1

Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One is on the one hand very similar to its predecessor, Mesrine: Killer Instinct. It follows the exploits of gangster Jacques Mesrine who robs banks, kidnaps millionaires, escapes from prison, and has women falling for him despite a career that will most likely end with his body filled with lots and lots of bullets. Yet, the character himself has changed and embraced the change. Jacques knows he is famous and loves it.

To be fair, this guy was famous for a reason. Early on in the movie he escapes a courthouse by taking a judge hostage with a gun that was hidden in the bathroom. I guess The Godfather hadn’t come out yet, otherwise the cops escorting him might have been wiser. When he is arrested again he not only chooses to defend himself in court, but to defend his lifestyle. He takes a jab at the justice city by demonstrating how corrupt it is and wins the public’s affection with humour. In the prison he is furious to see that he is not front page news because some dictator called Pinochet has taken over Chile. To counter this, he decides to write a book recounting his adventures. His lawyer is horrified that he would be stupid enough to write about his crimes, but don’t worry he says, it is all embellished to please the public. Mesrine clearly knew how to feed his fan base.

He also clearly loved living on the edge. Another great moment echoes the scene in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies when John Dillinger walked into a police station filled with cops who were looking for him. Mesrine and his accomplice François Besse (Mathieu Amalric) go a step further by walking in a police station and pointing at their very own wanted signs and asking the officer in charge if they have been spotted in the area. Mesrine and Besse are in disguise during the conversation, but you have to admire the size of their…boldness.

Vincent Cassel once again does a great job of portraying this man who was both charismatic and prone to violence. When interviewed by a reporter about his lifestyle he comes off as very articulate, intelligent, but you can see that there is a violent man underneath the charmer. That violence erupts when a different reporter publishes a story questioning his honour and sense of friendship. Mesrine subsequently beats the reporter to death in a cave as retribution. It proves to be a mistake, since as it turns out there is such a thing as bad publicity.

The director, Jean-Françcois Richet, stages some beautiful shots, such as when the camera is following Mesrine’s new girlfriend Sylvia (Ludivine Sagnier) walking down the streets of Paris. When soldiers are sent to track Mesrine and Besse in the woods a wide shot shows the troops emerging over a hill side by side in perfect unison.

What comes off as uneven is the sequence of events before Mesrine’s last stance. Police officers are hiding in cars waiting to ambush him in a street. One is afraid that he will be spotted and turns off his radio out of fear of being heard. It would be more suspenseful if the audience didn’t already that he has nothing to fear. If you have seen the previous movie you know how this will end for Mesrine. Then again Mesrine must have known as well. He did say he did not expect to grow old.


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