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Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1

Film Four Stars
This is the second part to the life of Jacques Mesrine from writer Abdel Raouf Dafri and director Jean-François Richet starring the superb Vincent Cassel. Both films and stories are written, conceived and filmed well, but in the second part there is a feeling of going through similar ground that you'd already been through with the main character, just a little older and a little less wiser. There are a number of scenes in the story where I wondered if they were really needed, but others were most definitely there for a strong reason.

While the first film in the two part series of Jacques Mesrine's life, starring the superb Vincent Cassel in the lead role, was very about his rise as a gangster, the escalation of violence, and of the crimes he committed, in the second film there's a little more of the person behind the gangster and his attempts at a life while playing with the pursuing police, keeping the title of Public Enemy No. 1, and enjoying the public attention.

He seems to begin to believe in the hype surrounding him, and while he becomes more and more hunted he also becomes more and more audacious, which ultimately leads to the controversial ending of his criminal life.

Plot.pngThis is the second part of two films looking at Jacques Mesrine, the infamous French gangster. The first film, Mesrine: Killer Instinct was a fantastic film but felt somewhat incomplete, it brought us with the character as he rose to the heights of Public Enemy No. 1. From here we see the rest of his life as he is hunted by the police and enjoys the fame that his crimes have brought him.

TheFilm.pngPublic Enemy No. 1 is a much less tense thriller than Killer Instinct, and while the violence and darkness of the character does come through in many places it is often with a much more light hearted look that the character views himself and the world around him.

However that doesn't mean that the film is light, it still carries a hefty weight with it, and perhaps a little too much as it tries to cram in so many connections to political organisations of the time and Mesrine's attempts to tie himself to them. At times this can all feel a little rushed and there just doesn't feel as though there's enough flow through the story, and as a result some sections feel overly long and at times a little laborious.

In fact that's being a little too fair on the film, it does feel like there could be well over an hour cut, and it seems a little strange that there is so much left in this half of the story considering that in the first film it feels that a few leaps have been taken to progress the story. Here it feels as though these sections been left in, and unnecessarily so.

The big issue with the film is that to a rather large extent it does feel like more of the same. He commits crimes that we've already seen and so many of them are ever really as impactful as when we see his escalation of violence and criminal activity in the first. Of course we have to understand that this is a real story and that events can't be manipulated too much for the purposes of entertainment, yet I wonder if there would have been another way to show the story without the character's power being diminished somewhat.

There are some strong positives that do come out of seeing these crimes again, we see that Mesrine is becoming more audacious and brazen, flaunting the law and even escaping from court by holding the judge at gunpoint. Later it's clear that he's also slightly sloppy, losing focus on his goals, and becoming more and more taken with the celebrity side of being Public Enemy No.1 as well as the enjoyment of alluding the police. To him it's becoming a game and something personal between him and the head of the division assigned to target him.

I must point out though that the film is still hugely enjoyable and well worth watching, it's just not as strong as the first film. Of course if you've watched the first film then you have to see this one, but it's not a hardship. Overly long yes, but still a good film.

The casino robbery and ensuing escape sequence is well worth watching alone and in moments mixes the lighter tones of some of the story with the ever present edginess of the character. Indeed later in the film there's a distinct feeling that beneath this seemingly less vicious character, the violence from the first film is ever present. The menacing look is still there and the violence breaks out quite often.

Another great sequence in the film is the montage of the spoils the couple's criminal activities and the time they spend enjoying them, the superb styling and cinematography is still present from the first film. This can also be seen in the sequence of him toying with the police who are outside his room ready to arrest him.

His new love interest, Ludivine Sagnier, is developed well and their relationship adds an extra dimension to the character, giving him that softer, more approachable edge that he uses to great effect with the media and to pull the audience in and build their sympathies towards the very strong ending which really does provide for a shocking conclusion despite the opening of the first film.

For much of the film Mathieu Amalric plays his sidekick, and here he feels a little more of a sidekick than a real character. His exasperation with the character and his stare is often slightly comical, something that can be seen when Mesrine returns with girls to entertain them while they are supposed to be on the run from the police. Amalric seems to struggle a little in the film, not because he can't keep up with the excellent performances, but because there's not a great deal for his character to do and he's often confined to the background reacting to Vincent Cassel.

Come the ending of the film and we return to the familiar territory from the opening sequence of the first film, but this time we're viewing the events from a different angle, an angle we didn't actually see last time. Now, we're seeing more and there's a new level of tension added.

It's a very satisfying ending that plays superbly on our sympathies and highlights a controversial moment in Mesrine's life. Well filmed and dramatically recreated, it has some tough images that pay off well from the cinematic journey we've been on.

Overall.pngI do believe that the first film, Mesrine: Killer Instinct (Filmstalker review), is more than strong enough to support a lengthy running time and so this second film could easily have been cut down and added to the first. Sure the running time would have been much, much longer, but I think it would have made better sense than presenting the two films with different release dates.

In effect the studio are presenting these as two separate films, and yet neither film can truly be viewied on its own, the first film perhaps more than the last, but the story won't make total sense unless both films are watched together, back to back.

Reviewing these two films as the releases intended, as two separate films, would harm each of them, Public Enemy No. 1 more than Killer Instinct, but I'm compelled not to do that and have to think of the power of a DVD and Blu-ray release, the latter I can hardly wait to see.

Public Enemy No. 1 is a superb close to the story of Jacques Mesrine and presents an interesting side to the character we've seen so well created in the first film. Vincent Cassel is once again excellent in this older version of the character and he commands the screen as much as he did in the first although he doesn't quite have the same level of performances around him as he does in the first, more down to the written characters than the actors.

The style and cinematography is still strong throughout the film and compares well to the first. While I think that the story was a little lacking and could have been edited down to inject some more pace and tension, overall the film is very good.

I'd recommend watching both Killer Instinct and Public Enemy No. 1, together if possible, and enjoy the stunning performance of Cassel in the lead, showing that he's one of the best actors in the world today.

Filmstalker at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2009
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