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MESRINE: PUBLIC ENEMY NO. 1

Director: JEAN-FRANÇOIS RICHET

FRANCE-CANADA • 2008 • SUBTITLED • COLOUR • ANAMORPHIC • DIGITAL • 133 MIN.


AS IF HE WAS MERELY WARMING UP IN THE FIRST HALF (KILLER INSTINCT), VINCENT CASSEL PUTS ON THE POUNDS AND DONS MYRIAD DISGUISES IN THIS CESAR-WINNING PERFORMANCE AS THE SELF-MYTHOLOGISING SUPERCROOK MESRINE, WHO CUT A SWATHE THROUGH THE HEADLINES IN 1970’s FRANCE AS PUBLIC ENEMY NO. 1.

It’s a performance to rank with De Niro in his prime, and it grounds the story as Mesrine’s elusive exploits continue to leave us gasping in their wake. Cannily, director Jean-François Richet shot much of this section first, allowing the bulked-up Cassel to shed his impressive gut for the character’s slimmer younger days, while this time the star’s chief playmates include a spry Mathieu Amalric as an understandably wary fellow fugitive, and Ludivine Sagnier as the seductive moll who’ll learn the hard way that the jewelled baubles which come with the territory do so at a heavy price.

Since the preceding Killer Instinct has already forewarned us to expect extremes of spontaneous daring and chastening cold steel from the man, the focus here shifts to Mesrine’s need to keep sustaining his flamboyant reputation with yet more snook-cocking illegality — and the quite possibly deluded sense that he was making a political statement in the process. Neither of the films judges their protagonist, though here the timing is especially deft. Just when we’re about to fall for Mesrine’s intoxicating bluster, we see him perpetrating another act beyond the pale of acceptability. With its adrenalin-charged action and freewheeling sense of transgression, this is certainly no heavyweight rumination on moral responsibility, but neither is it some facile hagiography. Mesrine: remember the name. — Trevor Johnston.

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