The second part takes a different tone to the first, ditching the Goodfellas life story/relationship plod and going straight for the heist jugular, with some frantic shoot-outs. Seriously, autoglass would make a killing with the number of back windows shot out. Mesrine himself is like the French John Dillinger, or Mark Brandon “Chopper” Read (last week’s Eric Bana in a performance to be savoured). A criminal whose delusions of grandeur begin to make him more than just a robber. Mesrine, so annoying with lack of publicity during one prison stint, wrote his own autobiography, which then became the basis for the first of these two films.
Cassell is once again awesome. He piled on the pounds to shoot this part first, before downsizing to play the younger Mesrine in part one (they filmed events in reverse chronological order – clever, see) so this is essentially the first time he’s tackled this character. Only prejudice against subtitles will stop you from enjoying this performance. A childish, overblown, naïve and sly concoction, making a dangerous but almost lovable villain. Violence is sparingly shown, but when it hits it packs a wincing punch, particularly during Mesrine’s attack on a silly journalist.
The ending is built with skilful tension by Director Jean-Francois Richet. Though you know precisely what’s to come from watching part one, there is still an unnerving build up to Mesrine’s eventual bow-out, with a particular sadness about the doggy…
As a duo, Mesrine is a lengthy study of a fascinating character, who could easily have popped up in any Scorsese epic. His life is certainly diverse enough to warrant two films, although maybe could have summarised various heists into a handy montage. Part one felt more of a coming of age story, compared to part two as a straight up heist/downfall pic, the two cramming in every major French actor known to all us non-French folk. Though some scenes may feel familiar to anyone who’s seen an organised crime/criminal based film, Mesrine is still an absorbing, thrilling piece, made brilliant by Cassell’s performance. Mesrine: Public Enemy No 1 scores a CF1, a point lower than the former film probably due to increased expectations. Still, a worthy duo well worth a watch.