So I assume that you’ve all seen “Mesrine: Killer Instinct” and are now anxious to see the conclusion to the series. Luckily, you are not to be disappointed as Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 delivers the same captivating storytelling, magnetic performances, and ace dialog that its predecessor sported. It does, however, lose a bit of focus with its sometimes all-too-frantic pacing which comes from Jean-Francois Richet’s and Abdel Raouf Dafri (who both return to direct and write, respectively) attempt to up the ante, which is understandable, considering that in the second installment of the “Mesrine” series, Jacques is hunted down seemingly everywhere. But although Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 does lose some sense of direction, it makes up for it in much more in-depth, entertaining, and frequent action sequences, which make the film all the more fun — in a mindless aspect.
Interestingly enough, Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 begins in a manner similar to that of the first movie. Once again, the film introduces the same caption: “No film can recreate the complexity of human life. But each with its point of view,” and once again, the first scene of the film projects Mesrine’s death. This time, we see how his body is quickly whisked away by police officials, who struggle in fighting off photo-happy journalists. Of course, the entire shooting is explained in detail during the film’s last scenes, however, the introductory scenes are interesting for one reason: They show just how much media attention was given to Mesrine, who is often referred to as “the honest bandit.”
Very early in the film, we flash-back to Mesrine, who is once again played by the same excellent Vincent Cassel (“Eastern Promises,” who seems to be packing a few extra pounds and a new haircut) as he rests in court. As Mesrine, Cassel once again captures the man in such impeccable perfection that even through the most outrageous moments, the character seems organic — which is always a plus in cinema. But as Mesrine sits in court, Cassel hides the faces of rage and the threatening physical approach of it for a bit of comedy. In the courtroom he first smart-mouths the judges with his cases against the judicial system (which he believes to be imperfect) and quickly changes course when he slyly pulls out a gun and flails it around, suddenly becoming an orchestrator of terror and panic. He holds up a judge and makes his daring escape, while pledging that no court-room or prison can ever hold him down and, as we come to learn, he certainly kept his promise, escaping several maximum security prisons, with each one having a new and daring plan of escape.
But Mesrine doesn’t feel pleased with just being another bank robber anymore, no, he wants to become a revolutionary and this is where the problem starts for Mesrine: Public Enemy #1. Mesrine, who plans to use his media coverage for change, starts writing daring letters to newspapers but once he receives negative feedback from a radical by the name of Jacques Dallier (Alain Fromager, “A Castle in Spain”), he takes matters much more personally. He kidnaps Dallier and traps him in a darkened cave, which is only illuminated by very ritual-esque candles. He then begins to torture Dallier, who debunks Mesrine’s stance as a revolutionary. In addition, Dallier also calls Mesrine a fraud and a liar and claims that he isn’t as honest as other media sources make him out to be. Sadly, this is in essence, where the entire pseudo-revolutionary portion of Mesrine’s life is dedicated to. Beyond this and one other pivotal scene in which Mesrine claims that politics are corrupt and that he robs banks not to run the country dry, but just for money for his own personal uses, the film never really explains in much detail this vital portion of the Mesrine mythology. In addition, the second act moves at a marginally slower pace.
Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 has its unexpected moments. In example, Dafri chooses to explore what Mesrine lost when entering the life of crime. In one scene, he is seen at his father’s side, who is dying in a hospital bed. Besides putting away the hatred that he harbored in the first installment of the film, Mesrine, who is disguised, cries and proclaims to his father that he was a bad son and a bad father and that it was all his fault. This is a very emotional scene and remains surprising because Mesrine has continuously shown himself to be absolutely emotionless throughout his long career, but during his father’s final moments, he tries to make amends. This entire sequence is possibly one of the most memorable in either installment.
New additions to the cast include Franà§ois Besse (Matthieu Amalric, he played the villain in “Quantum of Solace”), Mesrine’s new sidekick and fellow prison escapist, who remains an interesting contrast to the main man. Unlike Mesrine, Besse is reserved and doesn’t care for his theatrics involving the mass media. However, Besse does respect Mesrine for his sharp-thinking, his undeniable courage, and his audacity — all of which are put to play in a scene in which the duo rob a casino while disguised as inspectors. Another fine new performer is the beautiful Ludivine Sagnier (“A Girl Cut in Two”) who plays Sylvie, who is not only Mesrine’s last lover, but also his most romantic.
However, I would have liked more of Olivier Gourmet (“The Unknown Girl”) who plays Commissioner Broussard. When he is first introduced in the film’s first scenes, I was expecting a parallel to Christian Bale’s Melvin Purvis in “Public Enemies,” the uncompromising upholder of the law who proves to be a challenge for Mesrine, who is the film’s anti-hero. However, Broussard is only interspersed within the film and his longest screen-time is in the film’s final moments, during which he masterminds the end of Mesrine’s reign of terror.
Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 marks an unforgettable conclusion to the “Mesrine” series, however, unlike “Mesrine: Killer Instinct” it does have its share of problems which may or may not detract audience members from the film’s true potential. That being said, this second installment is a rare second trip that not only packs more rushes of adrenaline it also adds moments of suspense and even sadness. And for this it is to be commended.