By Don Simpson | September 10, 2010
Director: Jean-François Richet
Writer(s): Abdel Raouf Dafri (screnario, adaptation, dialogue), Jean-François Richet (adaptation, dialogue)
Starring: Vincent Cassel, Ludivine Sagnier, Mathieu Amalric, Samuel Le Bihan
Like Mesrine: Killer Instinct, the second half of the four-hour Mesrine saga directed by Jean-François Richet — Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 — begins with the end of the story…Mesrine’s (Vincent Cassel) death on November 2, 1979. Killer Instinct never alluded to Mesrine’s murder as being foul play or a tactical mistake on the part of the police, but Public Enemy #1 does. In fact, Public Enemy #1 takes quite a few opportunities to discuss (or at least present) the politics surrounding Mesrine’s life and death without being overly preachy or overtly partisan.
Public Enemy #1 catches up with Mesrine at the peak of his popularity as an iconic warrior of the proletariat. As if Mesrine was not cocky enough, fame has gone to his head; like a true existentialist, he also realizes that the front page headlines are shortening his lifespan. Mesrine’s political agenda has become the forefront of his actions and he has learned how to utilize the press as a means to disseminate his revolutionary diatribes to the masses. Every news story or interview with Mesrine enrages the French police exponentially. The police realize that incarcerating Mesrine is pointless; the only logical solution — in Mesrine’s mind — is for the police to kill him. This conclusion does not keep Mesrine from robbing banks. Mastery of disguise is the one skill that helps prolong his life, but Mesrine’s heists become increasingly sloppier. As if the opening scenes of Killer Instinct and Public Enemy #1 did not make it obvious enough, Mesrine will eventually make a mistake — his death truly is imminent.
As with Killer Instinct, Cassel owns each and every scene of Public Enemy #1 though this is a different Mesrine. Less slick, with an increasingly prominent paunch, Mesrine is frazzled and disheveled; he is also less likable. Certain of his impending death, Mesrine seems only to care about going out with a bang. Though Mesrine still tries to play the card of the underdog or the anti-hero, we have seen too much to feel any sympathy for him.
The only real flaw of these four plus hours of celluloid is the final sequence of Public Enemy #1. The fateful day of November 2, 1979 is played out once again, this time from the perspective of the police. Of course the film is going to end with Mesrine’s death, but the third time around is when Richet attempts to add an ample dollop of suspense to the editing and pacing. If we did not already see all of this before — albeit from different angles — maybe the suspense would register, but we have seen all of this before, and we already know exactly what is going to happen.
This brings me full circle — back to beginning of my review of Killer Instinct. Why did Richet start this epic Mesrine bio-pic with his death? I guarantee a majority of the non-French audience will not know if/when/how Mesrine died. The events of November 2, 1979 would have played out with much more suspense and surprise if Richet did not spoil the conclusion for us. Otherwise, Richet’s knack for keeping the onscreen mayhem realistic and Cassel’s masterful interpretation of Mesrine provides us with four plus hours of very enjoyable cinema.