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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


 Mesrine: Public Enemy No.1


Director Jean Francois-Richet (2009)

The answer to the question I asked at the end of my review of the first part of this two-part biopic, Mesrine: Killer Instinct, turns out to be an emphatic ‘yes’. And doesn’t our hero know it.

It’s in no crim’s power to be awarded the title of Public Enemy No.1, of course. That’s a wholly fictitious construct, a conspiracy between the police and the media. And it’s slightly disappointing to find that Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) has fallen for such a cliche.

But he lives the part magnificently, audaciously. One bank robbery is never enough. He has to rob the bank over the road, too, before jumping in the getaway car, getting caught, escaping (in one scene pulling out a gun in court), and doing it all over again.

It makes for action-packed cinema: car chases, gun fights and ingenious escape bids galore.

As in the first part of Mesrine’s story, the psychohological tension comes from trying to divine his motives. Even Mesrine himself is groping towards some sort of understanding of why he does what he does. You can imagine the exchange between actor and director.

Cassel: "what's my motivation?"

Francois-Richet: "you're trying to find out what your motivation is."

Mesrine part two is an acutely self-conscious public enemy who uses his time in jail to write an autobiography. The suggestion in part one that there is an political angle to his compulsive bank robbing is amplified as Mesrine suddenly realises that, yes, he is a people’s hero trying to bring down the system.

His latest hapless accomplice walks out on him at this, explaining, quite correctly, that if this revolution is successful he will no longer be able to milk said system, thereby putting him out of work.

By this time – the early 1970s - Mesrine has one eye on the Red Brigades that are beating him to the page one headlines. But we never get to find out whether he does go political. He remains a loner, caught in the contradiction of being a man against a system he depends on.


September 2009

Mesrine: Killer Instinct

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