Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 (Part 2)

Jacques Mesrine: One day they’ll shoot me to death, and it will completely make sense. Natural. After all, for someone who was in prison with maximum security, there are no rules. Like me, I live without rules…

That’s our man Jacques. Yes, that image to the right is the last shot of the movie. Jacques was probably killed by the barrage fired at him in the ambush by four men with automatic weapons, but in case he was still alive, another cop came running up along side the driver’s side of the car, and put one into his left temple from distance of less than a foot away.

Of course, this film began with the gathered crowd of the curious onlookers and bystanders, the uniformed cops, the plain-clothes anti-Mesrine squad, and a horde of press photographers and media types watching as Jacques Mesrine sat in the driver’s seat extremely dead, his body riddled with wounds. In short, Mesrine had just been executed with prejudice, without having undergone a trial and conviction. This Public Enemy No. 1 was gone … forever.

The beauty of the film wasn’t just the choreography of this execution. In many ways that part was very similar to the way Bonnie and Clyde were dispatched in their film made 41 years earlier. But we knew it was coming since the  opening images of Mesrine: Killer Instinct (Part 1). Director Jean-Francoise Richet actually put 252 minutes of Mesrine into the two films, so I must say that to have invested more than four hours into watching both films, knowing full well how it would end , is really a tribute to the film-maker’s skills.

Even more so, we must comment that Vincent Cassel will never top his performance in this role. This was a performance of a lifetime for this actor. His dominating dance-master in Black Swan was merely brilliant. Whereas Mesrine will go down as Cassel’s signature screen role.

And Jacques Mesrine was a real person. The director wrote a pre-opening text message to the audience which read in translation as:

All films are part fiction. No film can create the complexity of a human life, where each has its own point of view.

I guess Richet was telling us that even though Mesrine wrote an autobiography, even though he went out of his way to court the press, or give interviews that were regularly published in weekly news magazines, that some of the film had to be fabricated.

Either way, it was a tremendous movie with or without taking verisimilitude into consideration.

Mesrine (pronounced Meh-reen) was larger than life. He would rob a bank, then race across the street and rob another bank despite not having planned to do so. He was a master of disguises. He once entered a small town’s police station posing as a Parisian cop and asked to see the duty roster so he could get a handle on the size of the local police force. Cassel himself put on 45 pounds as to more accurately portray Mesrine as he aged

Mesrine and his partner kidnapped an elderly French millionaire by posing as detectives. They told him that they wanted 10 million francs as a ransom figure. The old man, played by Georges Wilson, laughed in their faces. He said, Go ahead and shoot me now. I’m 82 years old and I’m not giving you that much money. So negotiations began, in fact, even an installment plan was discussed. This was not only funny but was also unexpected and so very original.

But Mesrine got caught up in the whole business of being a celebrity. His criminal activities were staged not only to steal money, but to enhance his reputation.

Unfortunately, Mesrine lost his own way. He bought into his own self created legend. He threatened the French Republic by saying he would bring in the Red Brigades from Italy, he’d join the German Baader-Meinhof gangs, or he’d train with Palestinians.

He saw himself as a Revolutionary who would refresh France by tearing down the system. Starting with the banks. But his reality was that he was a gangster not a revolutionary. What did he do with the money he stole?  He pumped it right back into the economy by buying expensive cars, or jewelry for his woman, and he partied all the time when he wasn’t on the run. He was the ultimate consumer, living out his dreams with a huge thirst for all things expensive.

We don’t feel saddened as we watched his execution. He was a brave man, but he was also a brutal killer. He wasn’t heroic, instead we watched because he horrified us.

My recommendation is that Richet did a marvelous job in the way directed both this one and the Part one which I reviewed here. While the real Mesrine never attained legendary status here in the states as a criminal, this film may raise Cassel’s performance and Mesrine himself into the stuff film legends are made of.

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