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  Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 The Long Arm Of The Law
Year: 2008
Director: Jean-François Richet
Stars: Vincent Cassel, Ludivine Sagnier, Mathieu Amalric, Gerard Lanvin, Samuel Le Bihan, Olivier Gourmet, Michel Duchaussoy, Myriam Boyer, Anne Consigny, Georges Wilson, Alain Fromager, Alain Doutey, Laure Marsac, Arsène Mosca, Christophe Vandevelde
Genre: Thriller, BiopicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: In November 1979 notorious gangster Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) finally met his match when he was ambushed just as he was about to get away from France. The police were the ones doing the ambushing, effectively assassinating him without the need for a trial as the detective on the scene bluffed his way through claims that their target was about to open fire when he was actually taken completely by surprise, though as his body is taken away on a stretcher he at least does Mesrine the service of covering his face with his jacket. How different to, say, the time in 1973 when the criminal had been arrested, but was relishing out-talking the cops...

Mesrine: Public Enemy No 1, or L'ennemi public n°1 as it was originally known, was the second half of the two part film detailing the life of one of France's most famous bad guys, and as with many true crime tales the feeling that the moviemakers were growing increasingly fond of their subject was hard to shake off. Certainly the playing of Cassel suggested more of a loveable rogue than the hardened gangster that Mesrine was, and although the real man may have been charismatic, casting a star as magnetic as Cassel in the role was only going to build him up to true celebrity status, whether he was deserving of that or not.

On the other hand, a caption at the beginning tells us that any film based on fact cannot be entirely true to its source, and this second instalment, far more than the first, is firmly within the thriller genre. It still has to stick to the events, but by now the story has reached a momentum that made this an improvement over the previous one, as long as you did not mind the glamorisation of a violent lawbreaker. Naturally, it is that aspect which makes this so entertaining to watch even as those reservations are going through your mind: take the first courtroom scene where Mesrine smuggles a gun in there and takes the judge hostage, barges his way out and makes off in a getaway car. You grudgingly admire his audacity.

But director Jean-François Richet does not gloss over his subject's raging ego, and as he became the best known criminal in France Mesrine allowed his publicity to go to his head. This was the era of the Red Brigade and the Baader-Meinhof Gang, so he starts to get pretentious and align himself with terrorists, claiming what he is doing is a revolutionary act. What he is actually doing is stealing as much money as he can, which is far more selfish than he cares to admit, and Richet allows us to stand back from his self-aggrandising to recognise the unpleasant truth to his boastfulness. And yet, we are still interested enough in him to want to spend time in his company to see what latest dare he will get up to next.

As it is, we don't have to wait long as the film, more than its predecessor, is arranged as a series of setpieces. It may be hamstrung by its ending, which is so well telegraphed that we have essentially seen what will happen as the introduction to part one, and going over the same sequence in greater detail saps the tension rather than enhancing it. However, before we reach that mild letdown of a climax, there are plenty of suspensefully crafted prison breaks, robberies, murders and a kidnapping of a rich businessman to contend with. It is still flawed - there's a scene set in London which rivals the first film's Monument Valley one for hackneyed imagery - but Cassel keeps us watching, as does Mathieu Amalric as a nervy accomplice who sees Mesrine for what he is, and Ludivine Sagnier as the gangster's moll who by contrast believes all the hype until it is too late for either of them. In the run of such films, this is one of the better ones. Music by Marco Beltrami and Marcus Trumpp.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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