The second half of Jean-Francois Richet’s two-part biopic about notorious French criminal Jacques Mesrine, Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 is more focused and intense than the first (Killer Instinct), although it has its own issues with pacing and storytelling efficiency. Covering about half as much time as Instinct, Public Enemy doesn’t have to rush through events in typical biopic fashion. It moves fairly straightforwardly through the big moments in the final six years of Mesrine’s life, a time in which he became a larger-than-life public personality and started peppering his criminal activity with not particularly well-reasoned political messages.
Vincent Cassel once again does an excellent job as Mesrine, and the man’s charisma is even more important in this installment, as he draws in not only his associates and lovers, but also average fans who see him as a sort of noble vigilante. Richet and Cassel also make it clear, however, that much of Mesrine’s political posturing was merely a cover for his own violent self-interest. Mesrine teams up with a genuine revolutionary (Gerard Lanvin) who eventually sees through his partner’s hypocrisy, and Mathieu Amalric is compelling as a fellow criminal who gets fed up with Mesrine’s ego. The problem is that these episodes don’t necessarily flow smoothly, and while Public Enemy digs more deeply into each aspect of Mesrine’s life, those various pieces feel disjointed.
Taken together, though, the two films are entertaining and engrossing; Public Enemy is as worthwhile for its exciting chases and taut moments of suspense as it is for its insight into the cult of celebrity criminals. Richet is overly ambitious and often pushes too hard, but in that sense he’s perfect for chronicling Mesrine’s life.