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*REVIEW OF BOTH PARTS*
There is a short paragraph that opens both "Mesrine" films; the exact wording escapes me, but it says something like "no film can accurately portray the complexities of a human life". This seems to be a pre-emptive defense, as if Richet anticipates criticism for a lack of depth or some glaring omissions. After all, Jacques Mesrine is apparently still a famous name in France, and his public persona lives on. If even half his supposed exploits were true, the story would still be crying out for a definitive dramatisation. As such, Richet has wisely avoided making any real ethical judgements of Mesrine's character, focusing instead on the sex, violence and publicity that he thrived upon. But it's Vincent Cassel's committed and exuberant performance that develops this meat-and-potatoes content into an unbiased character study of excess and, over all, a very fine pair of movies.
"Mesrine" may not seem to be particularly even-handed at first because of the glamour, the wisecracks, and the endless charisma, all of which are drawn from the rich stylistic tradition of the Gangster Movie, and used very skilfully in its favour. The fast pace of the story ensures we are either seduced or repulsed by the central character, and rarely anywhere in between. Sympathy or pity is irrelevant, and he is too brutal and trigger-happy to be rooted for as a regular protagonist. The first film is the slicker of the two, and the more visually satisfying due to the wonderfully stylish recreation of early 60s Paris (and elsewhere). Cassel plays Mesrine with youthful vigour here. He's all style and brash confidence, as endearing a wiseguy as any of Scorcese's characters. It's "Goodfellas", in fact, that "Killer Instinct" is most reminiscent of, with its sharp-suited mobsters (including a brilliantly grizzled Gerard Depardieu) and episodic year-hopping narrative.
By the half-way point, Mesrine is still something of an enigma. It's only in "Public Enemy No. 1" that the pace slows down and we can see, through a few intimate and contemplative scenes, what he has sacrificed to live as a superlative criminal. "I wasn't much of a son, I'm not much of a father either." he says, while in disguise visiting his own ailing father in hospital. He gradually alienates his closest friends and accomplices by trying to maintain the outlandish public profile he cultivated, rambling pseudo-revolutionary politics to journalists and threatening to kill judges and destroy all maximum security prisons. The "Goodfellas" ensemble of the first part becomes the isolated, ego-driven "Scarface" of the second as Cassel skilfully matures his character into a man resigned to the fate he knows must be coming.
The over all impression left by "Mesrine" is that it manages to land successfully between crime thriller, gangster saga and character study. This is achieved by the virtue of a standout central performance, as well as Richet's shrewd application of an American film-making style to a very French story. It ought to go down among the top crime dramas of the decade, or at the very least raise the (already decent) international profile of its impressive leading man.
Last Month, I commented Mesrine Part One: "L'Instinct de Mort".
Now, there is Part Two.
This movie is as terrific and exciting as the previous one. The characterization as fascinating and poignant too. Cassel gives here his best performance ever. Whatever he will do in the future, he will never do better. He has reached here the top of his career.
I'll just describe one sequence. Somewhere the equivalent of the one I gave you for the previous chapter. Remember, when Cassel and Depardieu took a woman protector - an Arab - for a "ride" in their car.
Here, in this movie, Cassel and his anarchist, revolutionary and extreme left winged friend Lanvin - Charlie Bauer - take a journalist for a ride in their car, too. An extreme right winged one. A fascist. So, when the journalist in question tells the two men that the Algerians deserved to be killed in Paris, in 1961, and thrown in the Seine by Papon's policemen, don't miss Lanvin's eyes in the rear mirror. Don't miss his face. Especially when you already know that Lanvin -Bauer - fought for free Algeria, and that he hates fascists to the death.
At this moment, you understand that this journalist - who also told in his papers that Mesrine was a traitor for his friends and a coward too - was going to live some "difficult" moments...
So delicious to witness in the audience, I mean.
And about the very ending, the last shot of this film, I promise that every one in the theatre stays still some minutes afterwards. Stroke by lightning. Even if every one is prepared for it.
'It's pronounced may-reen!' Jacques barks at a police officer for
mispronouncing his name while recording a statement for one of his
latest misdemeanours. Jacques now claims his crimes are politically
motivated, but if anything, they have become less a means to an end
than an end in themselves. Sustaining his role as France's number one
outlaw becomes a vocation in itself.
As his weight increases, so too do his risks. He starts a tradition of stealing from one bank then immediately stealing from another; he cheekily goes incognito to a police station to obtain information they have about him; and he even kidnaps a judge whilst on trial for yet another bank robbery.
It can't have been an easy thing for the director to capture or for Cassel to personify, but what is impressive about this modern-day Robin Hood is that no matter how bad he gets he is never quite an Al Capone or a John Dillinger. But it's not long before his inner Mr Hyde resurfaces this time with catastrophic consequences.
Jacques arranges an interview with a policeman-turned-journalist, but it's a set-up, for Jacques confronts him about negative coverage he has given him. What ensues is a highly graphic display of violence. It proves to be one crime too far and prompts the minister of the interior to order police forces to hunt him down.
Jacques's vulnerability is exposed in a number of emotional scenes, especially one with his father. When questioned about why he does what he does, there is a heavily pregnant pause before a powerful soliloquy, 'I don't like laws I won't dream my life away, and I won't pass every store thinking: that'll cost me 10 months' work'.
The brilliance of these two films is that both flagrantly show Jacques's demise in their opening scene. However, you either ignore this fact or convince yourself it is not real; testimony no doubt to the allure of the main character and the manner in which his story his conveyed.
'Death is nothing to someone who knows how to live.' This matter-of-fact proclamation from Jacques sums up his philosophy from the beginning. Forget politics, forget justice, forget morality. None of these were his motives. Crime was the motive and an addiction to crime was his punishment. Jacques Mesrine always knew that once dead he would be 'guilty of nothing'. And I for one agree.
Part 2 is more episodic than Part 1, but it has several unifying
elements: the relationships with a notable accomplice, the quiet,
secretive, but equally bold Francois Besse (Matthieu Amalric); with his
last and perhaps most romantic girlfriend, Sylvie Jeanjacquot (Ludivine
Sagier); and, after a special "anti-Mesrine cell" has been created just
to track him down, with the police manhunt that ends his life. Their
code name for him is simply "le grand," the Big One. Above all the film
now has an overriding focus on Mesrine's growing public identity, which
he consciously shapes. This grows out of the energetic theatricality of
Vincent Cassel's performance. There are various scenes of Mesrine
"performing" in a police station (where Part Two begins); for
journalists of high-circulation weeklies; in court; robbing banks; and
for the world at large. If there was once a discernible difference
between his public and private life, it has disappeared now that he's
assumed arch-gangster status. Cassel literally takes on volume, having
put on 45 pounds for this part of the role. His character is solid,
confident, and aware of his public image at all times, and with his
inflated self-importance, he redefines himself as some kind of savior
of the common man from the tyranny of the banks and the bourgeoisie.
Various more sophisticated thinkers try to explain to him that the
banks aren't the problem, and that robbing them doesn't alter the
system and perhaps reinforces its importance.
As Part 2 begins, the now notorious gangster has made his way back to France. Spectacularly, Mesrine and another accomplice escape by holding up a Compiègne courtroom where he's about to be put on trial, taking the judge hostage on the way out. This segment is told in flashback: the gangster is telling his story to the cops after getting caught. He is subsequently furious to learn that the dictator Pinochet has seized page one of the newspapers by being apprehended, and pushed him out. He immediately demands a typewriter and begins to write his first autobiography, L'Instinct de mort (Death Instinct) to gain more attention.
But we also see Mesrine concealing his now more prominent public identity by assuming a series of disguises. He dresses up as a doctor to visit his dying father in a hospital and say goodbye. ("Why are you here?" his dad asks. "Well," answers Jacky, "all the banks were closed. . .") He not only gives Paris Match an important interview, but (in a sequence of excessive violence) tracks down, tortures and murders right-wing journalist Jacques Dallier (Alain Fromager), who enraged Mesrine by having written a piece for the journal Minute calling him a "dishonorable crook" and claiming he has "betrayed" his associates. And we see Mesrine operating through the medium of his attorney (Anne Consigny, of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and A Christmas Tale), who risks her career by helping him get pistols for yet another of his escapes--one that includes fording a river and passing a police roadblock in a farmer's Peugeot.
This time, he escapes with the reserved, suspicious François Besse (Matthieu Amalric), who, like him, has already escaped from prisons three times before and is treated as a celebrity by prison guards. Besse is a sharp contrast to the flamboyant Mesrine and thinks him foolish and mad, though like everyone else, he respects his courage and audacity. The two men rob the Deauville gambling casino's coffers, posing as inspectors to get in. But before that at Mesrine's instigation they pose as Paris cops checking on the local police headquarter's duty roster, to find out when the station is least well-manned. Besse is uneasy about such bold maneuvers, but even more, questions Mesrine's talking to 'Paris-Match' and claiming he's a revolutionary. But it's the late Seventies, the time of the Aldo Moro kidnapping in Rome.
After hearing about the Red Brigades and the Badder Meinhof, Mesrine tells Besse he wants to attack maximum security prisons, in the same way that he went back and attacked the Guantanamo-like Special Corrections Unit in Quebec. The film tells us the SCU's malpractices were ended as a result of Mesrine's exposure of them after his escape. Meanwhile, he persuades Besse to help him kidnap Henri Lelièvre (Georges Wilson), a millionaire Paris slumlord, for ransom, telling the slumlord he represents the PLO. This is another exploit that doesn't go as planned, but leads to a bold escape.
For a while Mesrine connects with Charles Bauer (Gérard Lanvin), an out-and-out radical, and it's with him that he traps and snuffs the right-wing journalist. Bauer in particular debunks Mesrine's claims of being a revolutionary.
The two-film diptych is bookended with the final police shootout in Paris traffic at the Place de Clignancourt that kills Mesrine with Sylvie Jeanjacquot and her little dog at his side, after he has used the slumlord's money to buy her a lot of diamond jewelry and himself a luxury model brown BMW. This is a convention of the genre--the bookending with a final showdown--but the way it's expanded in the finale of Part Two shows both films' fine sense of detail. Olivier Gourmet, among so many others, excels as Commissioner Broussard, head of the anti-Mesrine unit whose operatives are so terrified when the short, now overweight Mesrine walks by where they're hiding.
'L'ennemi public nº 1' had a November 19, 2008 theatrical release in France. It is part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at Lincoln Center, March 2009.
All in all, i highly enjoyable and competent work from Richet, he truly captured Mesrine animal like charisma, his rebellious and determined character, his savagery and his sense of humor. Cassel did a amazing job as well, he's so impressive, funny and scary, idealist and cynical, he really brings it all on screen. One really as to salute Richet's accomplishment here, the pressure on him was huge, Mesrine is truly France's "Scarface" (only here it's for real !), known by all and fascinating as hell, i mean the guy was a superstar, a media freak who wonderfully played with the media to get some kind of support from the population and ridicule the system and the government, and he almost reached his goals! Now i just cant wait for the BR to arrive, so i can watch both movies consecutively and confirm my first impression, which is that Richet has done something huge, exiting and impressive, un coup de maître if you will !
Mesrine was both a Reniassance man and a sociopath. H cooks
wonderfully, loves fine wine and good cigars, as well as fancy women.
But he is absolutely ruthless. When he creeps into the hospital to see
his dying father, you wonder "What went wrong?" Was the father too
strict? Not strict enough? Mesrine obviously had a death wish as he
courts his death with flair and imagination.
He loves the media, and is loved in return. Unlike the complicit media who lied about Pat Tillman's death at the hands of members of his own company and infuriated his family, Mesrine and Paris Match are on the same page. To see how gentle he is with the family he takes hostage, and how he doesn't desert the other crook who has been shot in the leg, shows you that this murderer has many facets to his character.
As I looked up the history of the right-wing writer they leave for dead, I was amused to see a video of him from his hospital bed, and he is very handsome, much more so than the bland actor portraying him. Mesrine, au contraire, is much handsomer than the real Mesrine. But , like many movies about famous people, I am left empty wishing there was more substance to the causal factors in his life.
Nonetheless, I am buying both to see again.
I think it's common knowledge how the film ends, but I won't divulge
for those that don't know. Public Enemy No. 1 is far more action packed
and seems far more 'Hollywood' than the comparatively quieter 'Killer
Instinct' - unsurprising though, considering it's the business end of
the Mesrine story.
Cassel is the driving force behind the whole film, without him it would have been an average to good film - with him it's good to great.
I don't know where everyone stands as far as the real life Mesrine goes - hero or villain. I certainly put myself in the villain camp, and so does Cassel and it shows.
From the offset we see that all though Mesrine can speak passionately, lucidly and 'rabble rousingly' it is always characterised by an impenetrably brash and brazen arrogance which is NEVER counterbalanced with any vulnerability to make the character more endearing. Jacques Mesrine's inherent evil is often masked by a jocular bravado and his monologues justifying his way of life are mesmerising - but you're never convinced enough to actually like him. Therein lies Cassel's greatest achievement in the film - to create a character for which all you can feel is antipathy but nevertheless to find him intriguing enough to carry on watching.
Certainly, he does afford us some light touches. I smiled as he boasted at the beginning of the film of being Public Enemy Number 1; his face being Gallic nonchalance personified, as well as the scene of him and his accomplice Francois Besse (played by Mathieu Almaric) trying to cross a river.
Besse provides a solid sidekick for Mesrine to flourish, telling Mesrine that they are not 'luminaries' soon after Mesrine's interview where he tries to elevate himself to hero status with the most simplistic of demagogic arguments: "I don't like laws and I don't want to be a slave to those laws in perpetuity" (to paraphrase).
I do have some small criticisms, such as Anne Consigny's (who incidentally appeared with Almaric in 'Wild Grass', 'A Christmas Tale' and 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly') unconvincing role as Mesrine's corrupt solicitor. Her face seems just too honest.
That petty criticism aside I'd give the film 7.5/10, giving the benefit of the doubt it's an IMDb 8.
Jacques Mesrine (Cassel)one of France most notorious criminals, Wanted
for murder and robbery. Easily escaping from every maximum prison
thrown at him. He was certainly a colourful character. This amazing two
part film literally blew me away. The action, characters and plot are
all well thought out and directed by Jean-François Richet (Assault on
precinct 13). In many ways his life mirrors that of john Dillinger's
(Public Enemy) who was also a publicly acclaimed Anti-hero. As you
follow the troubled front man, you start to understand that he had more
in his sights then smash and grab hold ups.
Vincent Cassel is brilliant as the "honest bandit". I decided to watch part one (Killer Instinct) after that, I couldn't get enough of this rather vivid bio. Both parts of the story are equally as strong; the first being may be more accessible then the latter. But for the full effect I recommend you watch it back-to-back. It's a roller-coaster ride that leaves you wanting more.
But as the dust settles and Mesrine accepts his inevitable decline "If you are listening to this, then I have been sent to a cell, for which there is no escape" simply amazing cinema! Reviewer: Joshua Roberts For more weekly reviews go to www.crazyaboutfilm.com
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This two-part film is good in the way it doesn't only show the charisma of Mesrine (which is the main cause of his myth in France I think), but also his extreme violence and how he was just a "rabid dog" taking political causes to satisfy this violence. Still Mesrine remains fascinating by his level of boldness and how he just failed French and Canadian states in dealing with him. This is maybe a part of my punkness which appreciates this boldness but I think this is why people found him charismatic: he was defying institution and was quite efficient doing it. An anthropological insight in the French mind somewhat!
Once gain directed by Jean-François Richet, Mesrine: Public Enemy No.1
(Part 2) continues on from Mesrine: Killer Instinct (Part 1) the outlaw
odyssey of Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel), the legendary French
gangster of the 1960s and 1970s who came to be known as French Public
Enemy No. 1 and The Man of a Thousand Faces. Essentially, this film
focuses on the latter half of Mesrine's life, based on Mesrine's
memoirs. Whereas the first film focused on Mesrine's rise from the
average joe to a big time criminal, this film shows the events after
Mesrine has been declared Public Enemy No.1 in France, and then his
eventual demise. (My review of Part 1 is here.) In this film, Mesrine
appears to have gained some weight and seems to be balding. He is also
at the height of his game and notoriety. He has been playing the media,
which has been labeling him a "Robin Hood," of sorts. Meanwhile, he has
been declared "Public Enemy No.1" in France. One can guess that things
will start to go downhill for him. As indicated in the first film,
Mesrine will eventually be gunned down.
The visuals are grittier this time around, more modern, and much of the action takes place in the city. As opposed to the deep reds and greens of the first film, the modern environment is more gray with contrasts. The first film felt more "old school" Hollywood. It is more modern here. We now see more sideburns.
My complaint for the first film was that it felt episodic and crammed together as we watched Mesrine going from one caper to the next across a span of many years, sometimes almost like a documentary. This time, the film takes place mostly in the 70's and a less condensed period of time. The pacing is noticeably more even. More importantly, we also get to see more aspects of Mesrine's personality, his thoughts, and there are occasional contemplative scenes. If the first film was more action-driven, this one feels more character-driven.
Vincent Cassel is terrific as usual playing Mesrine, and here, he is now the man people know him for, he is more comfortable in his skin, confident, and has more wisecracks to dish out. Proud of his growing notoriety and his ability to manipulate the media, Mesrine appears to be having a lot of fun here as well as Cassel playing him. Olivier Gourmet plays Le commissaire Broussard, who is leading a task force to apprehend Mesrine. Broussard and Mesrine appear to have a respectful mutual understanding of each other. Broussard appears relaxed and fairly controlled most of the time, and compared to the vast emotional range of Mesrine, Broussard can feel a bit two dimensional. Matthieu Amalric is terrific as the bulgy-eyed French criminal named François Besse, a master of prison-escapes, whom Mesrine befriends in prison. After helping Mesrine escape, Besse and Mesrine begin working together in their heists. Besse is essentially the opposite of Mesrine--he is efficient, intelligent, lacks showmanship, and takes his work more seriously. There's a revealing moment in the film where Mesrine argues with Besse about their end goals.
Mesrine has also gotten a new woman, Sylvia (Ludivine Sagnier), who becomes a bit of a Bonnie to his Clyde in his heists. There's a bit of familiar glamour and lightness to the film when they dress up and start spending the money away. Cue the happy music and the lady trying on expensive hats. As in the first film, these moments are contrasted with Mesrine's violent side. The darkest moment in the film is when Mesrine's partners up with the politically radical Charlie Bauer (Gerard Lanvin) and kidnaps and tortures a journalist who had written unflattering things about him. The scene is harsh and gritty.
Ultimately, the film's greatest asset is still Vincent Cassel's amazing performance and believability. The action scenes and the progression of events are solidly directed by Jean-François Richet. Admittedly, this film still feels rather episodic like the first film. But, it is deeper. A good, solid cap to the 2-part series.
*** 1/2 out of **** stars You can also follow my movie reviews on http://twitter.com/d_art
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