Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 is part 2 of the gangster saga based on an actual French bank robber. It follows the notorious exploits of the Gallic outlaw who was introduced in Mesrine: Killer Instinct (2008).
It's not your usual genre movie. But it is one of those increasingly rare times when you leave the theater saying, "That was a good movie."
It's perhaps not what one may expect. It's not grim, gritty, and nasty -- at least not most of it. It's more action galore.
A crucial scene near the end is suspenseful and violent, but the victim somehow survives. And in another scene, a wounded puppy seems to survive.
Since Mesrine is a French film, it concentrates on character. Vincent Cassel is part Roadrunner and part Warren Beatty's Clyde Barrow as the flamboyant man of action Mesrine.
Screenwriter Abdel Raouf Dafri includes a clever allusion when a character says to a man demanding a warrant, "Warrant Beatty."
Director Jean-Francois Richet obviously has been influenced by the Arthur Penn/Beatty film Bonnie & Clyde (1967). His film has some of the tone, personality, and energy of the American crime classic.
There's also a touch of master French director Jean-Luc Godard in Mesrine -- Godard at one time was interested in making a movie about Mesrine.
Jacques Mesrine is larger-than-life, and very lucky in his escapes from prison and the law. He is fortunate, not always bright. Like Clyde Barrow he is committed to his image.
When he loses control most is when a right-wing journalist writes that Mesrine betrayed his friends and broke his word. Mesrine has created an image of himself in which he always honors his word. He is livid about the journalist's besmirching that.
Mesrine is distant from his two sons and a daughter, but his relationship with his daughter, who visits him in prison, has warmth. He knows he has been a deficient father.
He also realizes he has been a deficient son. As he says to his dying father, "It's how I am." And concludes passionately, "Forgive me."
One of the greatest losses the film endured was when Vincent Cassel's own father Jean-Pierre Cassel died of cancer in 2007. Jean-Pierre was a renowned actor, who played in such classics as Luis Bunuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972).
Jean-Pierre was supposed to play the part of the father opposite his son in Mesrine. It would have been their fourth film together, and probably would have included their most memorable scene.
Mathieu Amalric -- the villain in Quantum of Solace (2008) -- is convincing as the skittery accomplice. And Ludivine Signier has appeal as Mesrine's girlfriend.
The cinematography -- sometimes jerky -- by Robert Gantz is evocative. And the original music by Marco Beltrami and Marcus Trumpp is spirited -- in the Bonnie & Clyde vein.
Of course Edith Piaf captures a major theme in Mesrine with her enchanting version of "Non, je ne regrette rien" (No, I regret nothing).
As in Bonnie & Clyde, Mesrine has a political background with the national events, e.g., the Pinochet coup.
Mesrine shares a creed with Clyde Barrow who said, "We rob banks." That's reason enough for some people to cheer. The artful filmmaking in Mesrine is an even greater reason.
America has Clyde; France has Mesrine. Both led to memorable movies.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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