Mesrine Part 2: Public Enemy #1
Directed by Jean-Francois Richet
France does (bad) Hollywood in its portrayal of infamous French gangster, Jacques Mesrine, in a two part bio-pic. Mesrine’s life seems tailor made for the screen; his life of crime spanned three continents, he broke out of maximum security prison no less than three times, had affairs with many beautiful women and flirted with revolutionary status. Unfortunately, onscreen, he becomes something of a caricature. Though there are brief moments of insight into his motive and character, for the most part the film is preoccupied with surface values.
With a generic style and passable script, we go through the motions of Mesrine’s tumultuous life from his beginnings as a soldier in the Franco-Algerian conflict, to his bloody end in an ambush in the streets of Paris. Little about the film is remarkable stylistically – in fact, the film’s glossy style is entirely at odds with its complex titular character. Beyond Mesrine’s improbable life of crime, he is fascinating because he captured the attention of the French public, representing himself as a contemporary Robin Hood.
There are moments in the film when they explore how entirely fabricated Mesrine’s allure is. He becomes something of a cult hero like Bonnie and Clyde, however the truth is that he is a brutish, impulsive, cruel and close-minded individualist. These moments are briefly interesting, but also seem directly contradicted by the romantic portrayal, and the film goes long stretches upholding him as an ideal.
With such a remarkable cast, it is amazing that nobody really stands out. Most of the roles though seem woefully underwritten. Roy Dupuis in particular seems under-utilized; his character seems little more than a mouthpiece for popular Quebecois expressions. Though the film generally uses the Montreal landscape to interesting effect, its portrayal of the Quebec people is expectantly shallow.
Ultimately, both entries in Mesrine lack a hook to draw in the audience. They are inconsistent, messy, and offer little insight into the personal or fabricated life of one of France’s most infamous criminals. Even at a very basic level, the films don’t quite work as companion pieces. Not only in their employment of different style and pacing, but in that unresolved issues from Killer Instinct are never addressed in Public Enemy #1. Running at over four hours between them, Mesrine is a bloated and shallow affair. There is little worthwhile between them worth recommending, and neither film is deserving of the acclaim they’ve received.