Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 Review

Matt Joseph

Reviewed by:
On August 26, 2010
Last modified:November 9, 2013


Once again Casell is phenomenal in the role and turns the film into a compelling and gripping ending to an epic gangster flick.

Jacques Mesrine is back in the second part of Jean-Francois Richet’s two part riveting biopic on the infamous French gangster. Although this is being released as a separate film, it’s still part of the same film that part one, Killer Instinct, was part of. While it would have been nice to view the two parts as one film, a decision was made  to split them up since audiences would probably have a tough time sitting through a four hour film, no matter how compelling the subject material was.

If you’ve seen Killer Instinct, the first part of the film, you should feel right at home here. Cassel is back as Jacques Mesrine, one of the most notorious gangsters of all time. His status is legendary and by the time the film starts, he has earned himself the title of Public Enemy Number 1.

This time around, we see a Mesrine that is a bit of a publicity whore. He yearns for media attention and revels in his public notoriety. Mesrine was a man who was obsessed with his own legend. While the first half jumped around quite a bit, and covered a long period of time, this half focuses more on Mesrine’s later years and takes more of a laid back approach.

Gone is the sporadic, episodic nature of Killer Instinct and it seems like director Jean-Francois Richet has calmed down a bit. Public Enemy #1 delivers just what the Killer Instinct was missing, character development.

With this outing, we really get a better look into Mesrine’s head. It results in a less flashy and hyper film but at least we get a chance to see what Mesrine is thinking and what his motivations are. Richet studies Mesrine more as a person and his personality. It turns out to be a less superficial affair than Killer Instinct and it’s a welcome change.

Aside from the added character development, most of the film is very similar to the first part of this epic biopic. We get some more bank robberies, murders, prison breaks and we get to follow Mesrine around as he wages his one man war against the French government.

This time, instead of focusing on only the crime spree, we get to see more of the cat and mouse game as the French government closes in on Mesrine. The police are constantly on his tail and it makes things a bit more exciting.

The episodic nature from Killer Instinct is found here but to less of a degree and although this only deals with the final years of Mesrine’s life, it feels a bit less focused than the first half. Fans may also complain it’s not as exciting as there isn’t as much action. There are a couple great escape scenes but the first part definitely had more going on. It almost feels like two different films at some points due to the different approach taken with the second half. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with Public Enemy #1, it’s just different than Killer Instinct.

In the acting department, the cast is almost made up of all new faces, except for Cassel. He’s still as good as he was the first time around. He walks around exuding that dangerous charisma that made him so mesmerizing in the first half. He has put on about 40 pounds for this half and he’s hidden under wigs and makeup for a lot of it but he’s still as impressive as ever. Perhaps he’s putting on his best Robert de Niro a la Raging Bull. Whatever he’s up to, it works.

Just like with Killer Instinct, he completely transforms himself and is riveting to watch in every scene. Some supporting performances, most notably by Ludivine Sagnier who plays Mesrine’s girlfriend Sylvie and Mathieu Amalric who plays Mesrine’s sidekick Francois Besse, get overshadowed by Cassel’s tremendous screen presence and Sagnier and Amalric both end up taking a back seat here.

One major difference I did notice here was that this half had more of a fun and light approach to the subject material. Granted there is one disturbing scene that involves Mesrine dealing with a journalist who wrote a negative article about him but aside from that scene, Public Enemy #1 doesn’t feel as dark as Killer Instinct.

In the end, everything comes together. The compelling story, excellent direction, powerhouse acting etc. It all amounts to a haunting and gripping finale that even though we know how it all ends, still strikes a chord with us. The final scene was shot appropriately and it’s one of the film’s more intense and powerful scenes.

Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 is an excellent way to end the two part biopic. As a separate entity, it takes a different approach than Killer Instinct but it is equally as compelling and gripping. As a whole, the two part biopic is superb. Cassel is tremendous in the role and Richet directs everything almost perfectly. It’s an epic gangster film that deserves to be placed amongst the best.

Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 Review

Once again Casell is phenomenal in the role and turns the film into a compelling and gripping ending to an epic gangster flick.