Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One Netflix | Amazon | YouTube DVD | Blu-ray
Directed by Jean-François Richet
Starring Vincent Cassel, Ludivine Sagnier, Mathieu Amalric, Gérard Lanvin, Samuel Le Bihan, Olivier Gourmet, Fanny Sidney
Originally Released: November 19, 2008
In some ways, the timing of my selection for reviewing the Mesrine duology for our streaming feature is a little poignant. I am writing this the day after the Dorner standoff at the cabin in San Bernardino County; and I cannot help but find and mark some striking similarities between the two cases. The two fugitives both have devotees that view their cases with empathy, and both met (allegedly) similar ends at the hands of an overeager group of law enforcement officials. Except in this case, there’s no crispy result for old Jacques Mesrine.
This may sound like a spoiler for Mesrine Part Two: Public Enemy Number One, but I promise you, it is not. Mesrine’s history is quite well known internationally, and the very ending of his story is of no consequence to the two films – what is more important is the man’s journey to that end. I’m certain there’s some quaint and cliché saying about that sentiment that Aerosmith once put in their songs.
In an incongruous entrance, Part Two does not pick up on the ending of Killer Instinct. In fact, many years have passed, and we find Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) back in France where is getting fat and robbing banks. The ending chapter of The Mesrine Duology follows his journey, as he becomes labeled Public Enemy Number One by the press and the cops, as his criminal enterprise begins to evolve from the thrill of the felony and the public spotlight to something of a twisted cause.
The disjointed nature of Mesrine’s story, fundamentally due to unclear gaps in his real history, continues throughout the second chapter. However, in Public Enemy Number One, we find a great deal of the events from the first movie becoming the basis for the driving force and actions and experiences of the main character. As established in the first film, he is not a nice man – but in this episode, his folk hero status becomes more apparent (again, like Dorner, only without the crisp grilling).
His continuing crime sprees make for breathless viewing, and the major MAXIMUM SECURITY jail break sequence in this movie is an exquisite thrill to watch. While the actions and his decisions fill the majority of the plot, Mesrine Part Two largely examines the mindset of the man, framing an overall form and story that becomes a sobering and intense experience.
Yet again, Vincent Cassel is clearly the star of these movies. Like the namesake of his character, he really becomes the man of a hundred faces – and is almost immediately unrecognizable from the start; both from his real-life appearance as Cassel, and the way he appeared as Mesrine in the first movie. His first outer shell reminded me very strongly of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine (just with more of a belly), with the same intense glare. His mannerisms throughout the movie emulate the real Mesrine in the sense that his rationales are never really betrayed – except when it comes to the fame and glamour he receives from his notoriety.
And while Cassel gives Lon Chaney a run for his money in the ‘man of 1,000 faces’ department, Olivier Gourmet as Commissioner Broussard makes for a marvelous inclusion in this movie, resulting in a notable and memorable nemesis for our main character. Mathieu Amalric, who most of our readers will remember from Quantum Of Solace, is astonishingly terrifying as the criminal genius François Besse, who could almost have a movie of his own. Also notable is Gérard Lanvin as Charly Bauer, completely unrecognizable from his last appearance in Point Blank.
There are also a few significant family scenes in Public Enemy Number One that are extremely touching this time round, particularly with the (unfortunately short) appearance by Fanny Sidney as Mesrine’s daughter. Her acting is magnificent, and the emotional impact from her role is fantastically heart breaking.
Her main scene, along with that of Michel Duchaussoy as Mesrine’s father earlier in the movie, underscore a significant element of what Mesrine has forsaken for his selfish/noble (depending on your opinion and point of view) quest. The passionate performances from these two actors provide Cassel with much ammunition for his own performance, with a hazy morality that will leave you with numerous questions.
I must devote an entire paragraph to Ludivine Sagnier who plays Sylvie Jeanjacquot in this episode. She falls deeply in love with Mesrine, during a period in his life when the money flows fast and his perspective and motivations begin to evolve. Sagnier’s portrayal in this movie is nothing short of lustrous, as she becomes one of the most convincing performances in the film. You can feel her underlying fear during certain scenes, and she deserved more time on screen in my mind.
With the second chapter of Mesrine, much of the action is set in France, with sweeping scenery that is both breathtaking and beautiful. The fantastic camera and lighting work throughout pays careful attention to this, bringing into being a notable contrast between the shifting techniques used in the previous film used to highlight Mesrine’s formative evolution. In similarity however, the filmmakers pay extreme attention to camera angles, markedly during intimate scenes, as well as clever use of mirrors again.
I could not do this movie justice without pointing out the makeup and costuming again. The work that has gone into transforming the actors into accurate versions of the characters is astounding. For those familiar with the history, you will be stunned and spellbound at the efforts gone into the likenesses, and also the transformations over time. For those not familiar, take the opportunity to have a look at some of the photos from the actual crimes and moments in time – you will find yourself dumbfounded as well. No, no, seriously, if you have no awareness, go and see right now. Maybe it will convince you to watch the movies. As a matter of fact, bugger it, here’s a picture from the linked page for a little bit of encouragement for you:
As in my earlier review, I cannot help but make comparisons to two Australian movies – Chopper and The Postcard Bandit. There are remarkable similarities between the movies, as in the real-life stories of these criminals. Like Mesrine in this movie, Mark "Chopper" Read also published his own crime memoirs (with embellishments) while imprisoned, and Brenden Abbot flaunted his ability for disguise right under the schnozzles of law enforcement officials. You will find these daring moments to be amazing.
A couple of other points I would like to raise: first, the moral ambiguity in this movie is incredibly thick – so much so, that you may find yourself wanting to rewatch both movies to soak it all in. It’s an intoxicating experience. Secondly, the violence is rife in this movie as in the first, though the gore this time is used sparingly. I believe there is a solid reason for this, and its basis lies in the final sequences of the movie.
These final sequences are an incredible crowning triumph for director Jean-François Richet. Without making it appear that I am spoiling anything, both movies actually show these final sequences at the very beginning; and yet it is shown in further detail (from altered perspectives) when this last movie concludes. Richet somehow manages to level up the anticipation and tension quota during this moment, in a manner that you will disbelieve in retrospect. Believe me; this is a brilliant viewing experience.
As with my last review, I cannot heap praises enough on The Mesrine Duology. The only criticism I could possibly muster is the lack of cohesiveness across the unknown moments of Mesrine’s life – but it provides for an (almost) accurate account. Cassel steals the show, and will turn out to be one of your favorite actors after seeing this. If you’ve seen Part One, go off now and watch this one. If you haven’t seen either of these movies, go and watch them… right now!
Wait, what the hell are you still doing here? Stop wasting time reading my ramblings here and go begin watching Mesrine!