Mesrine: Public Enemy #1
Film review by: Witney Seibold
The second part of Jean-François Richet‘s Mesrine movies, “Public Enemy #1” is a bit more slowly paced and bit more serious that the first. This is the part of Mesrine’s life when he began to feel that he was more than a thief, and something of a revolutionary. He started to see his bank robberies as a political act, rather than a greedy one, and, hence, began committing some stupid mistakes, not the least of which was killing a reporter in a cave.
My central complaint with the first “Mesrine” film stands here too: despite the weight of the politics, and the violence of the crimes, this film seems light and airy and trifling. Mesrine may be angrier in this film, but he’s still too charming and cheery to take seriously as a tragic politico, and the filmmaking is still too action-oriented to feel heavy. Again, this makes for a brisk and enjoyable film, but not a very weighty one.
I don’t insist that my films be tragic or epic in order to be good; that’s a common critical misconception. But, I feel the material had the potential to be – and even kind of demanded – a level of weight that Richet didn’t quite provide. It’s a very good film, very watchable, and endlessly enjoyable, but I feel like it could have carried a great deal more emotional heft.
The acting continues to be great. In this film, Mesrine hooks up with another experienced criminal named Besse, who is played by the fantastic Mathieu Amalric, and the dynamic between these two men is fascinating; we finally get to see the conflicting mindsets of the career criminal. One wants to make money and stay invisible. The other does it for glory and woman and other visible material gains. The tension/friendship between Mesrine and Besse is way more fascinating than the tiresome romantic and sexual trials that he goes through; Mesrine is something of a cad, so he dates and dumps a long string of really hot women, finally landing on the lissome Ludivine Sagnier, which proves that he’s probably reached the top in terms of floozies.
The film’s finale is a detailed account of the first film’s opening scene; that is, we get to see Mesrine’s death. In “Public Enemy #1,” though, we see the scene from the police’s perspective. This is clever, I suppose, if not a bit drawn out. How Mesrine dies, however, is never really explained. Perhaps the real circumstances of his death were equally mysterious, but I would have forgiven the filmmakers had they made a postulation.
See this film, and see it immediately after “Killer Instinct.” They are fun and good.