Mesrine: Public Enemy #1
Review by Ian Brokway
"Mesrine: Public Enemy #1" begins where part one left off as Jacques Mesrine, (Vincent Cassel) a French Dillinger, is brought in for questioning. They proceed to bring him to trial. Mesrine manages to ask for leave to go to the bathroom and allow him. Mistake number one. He has a gun in the toilet seat. At the trial he is impudent. Suddenly he takes the gun and voilà! the judge is a hostage.
Vincent Cassel plays Mesrine in a brutish deadpan fashion. When he sees a woman slink by in a red dress, he can be like Robert Mitchum, strong and silent. Then several times he escapes from deadly car chases stark prison cells like a homicidal Harrison Ford ala Indiana Jones. The action, as in the previous film, does not disapoint and the car chases have a kind of apprehensive ballet. We never know the moment of Mesrine's exact demise. All we know is that it has something to do with an ominous blue-tarped truck, as Mesrine plays the Scarface about town with his new wife (Ludivine Sagnier) and a toy poodle. We know he's up to something. Mesrine is the Houdini of Homicide. He treats most things, both animals and people, in a laconic deadpan fashion. He says he's part of the Red Brigade, a militant revolution. But all he cares about is the press and what the tv says of him. He is more thug than suave heartthrob.
What makes "Mesrine" compelling is its Pop Art cinematography and its way of highlighting the ordinary into a hyper-realistic dream of crime and existential confinement. In prison once again, Mesrine writes his memoirs and one gets the sense they are deadpan and matter of fact. We watch Mesrine like a curious creature, despite his bleu collar roots.
How is he going to get away now? Mesrine was known as "the man of a hundred faces" and his face actually does change from one escape to the next. Life to Mesrine was perhaps not the francs, but the thrill of getting them, the undermining of authority. The penal system, as depicted in this film is equally cruel.
When he is finally done in under a hail of bullets, Mesrine is strikingly similar to a bloody and crucified Jesus. The hyper-focus on the face and his gored forehead seems to directly echo Mad-Mel's Passion Play. Mesrine with his seeking of celebrity was a criminal icon, he sought bloody fame with a religiousity approaching amoral
sainthood; it's all he spoke about.
What can one expect from a warped mind in Catholic school? Like the frequent use of slanted camerawork in the film, Mesrine was all about subverting horizontal authority thru violence And the last bloody image may be an admonition by the director that he will sadly be venerated by some for it.