A French gangster's denouement

Vincent Cassel stars as Jacques Mesrine in Part 2 of the gangster biopic, which ends the way the first began: In a hail of gunfire on a Paris street.
Vincent Cassel stars as Jacques Mesrine in Part 2 of the gangster biopic, which ends the way the first began: In a hail of gunfire on a Paris street.
Posted: September 03, 2010

Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 is the second half of the epic French gangster biography chronicling the outrageous career of '60s and '70s outlaw Jacques Mesrine. Vincent Cassel, looking hopped-up and wily - and gaining considerable heft to play the celebrity outlaw in his middle age - once again delivers a performance of full-force magnetism.

Magnetism, however, isn't always the same thing as likability. Mesrine (pronounced may-reen - he hated it when someone called him mez-reen) was a trigger-happy sociopath who bullied and brutalized those close to him, and those who got in his way. There were instances of tenderness and thoughtful reflection, but then he'd go and blast somebody in the head.

Public Enemy No. 1, with its elaborate prison escapes and mob-world machinations, is a little more rambling and disjointed than its predecessor. Back in France after his incarceration in a Quebec jail (for robbery and kidnapping, but also for aligning himself with a band of radical separatists), Mesrine goes off to a maximum-security French penitentiary, writes his memoirs, and then - along with a fellow convict, played in terse beats by The Diving Bell and the Butterfly's Mathieu Amalric - pulls off a grand unscheduled exit.

The escape is the stuff of newspaper headlines and TV news, and Mesrine makes the most of it, wooing the media (and toying with it) as he espouses leftist doctrine and claims fellowship with the Baader-Meinhoff gang and the Red Brigade.

Deftly filmed and directed by Jean-François Richet, Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 ends wherePart 1began: on a Paris street where a truckload of heavily armed French police opened fire on the gangster and his girlfriend.

Did he go out in a blaze of glory? Perhaps.

A blaze of ego? Most definitely.


Note to readers: For the review of Part 1, "Killer Instinct," please go to: www.philly.com/inquirer/columnists/steven_rea/20100827__Mesrine__brings_French_criminal_to_life.html

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/.

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