Urban Cinefile
"When you see a movie that you've written and directed, mostly it's a humiliating experience "  -Oscar winning director Anthony Minghella
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Saturday February 1, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Born in 1936 to a bourgeois Parisian family Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel) becomes a household name by his 30s through his colourful and brazen career as a criminal, until his death in a hail of police bullets in 1979. Following his discharge from the army in 1959, Mesrine's childhood buddy Paul (Gilles Lellouche) introduces him to burglary - and to crime boss Guido (Gerard Depardieu). He also meets Pigalle prostitute Sarah (Florence Thomassin), but is soon in love with Spanish beauty Sofia (Elena Anaya). After a stretch in prison, he tries legit work, but when that dries up he returns to work for Guido and never looks back. In 1966 he meets Jeanne (Cecil De France) who is as ruthless as he is, and they team up. In Part 2, Mesrine continues to live a reckless and high profile life of crime, brazenly eluding police - even writing a biography in prison admitting to 40 murders, feeding the legend of his image. He breaks out of prison with fellow crim Francois Besse (Mathieu Amalric), who prefers to keep a low profile - unlike Mesrine, whose swagger ultimately leads to the inevitable deadly ambush by police.

Review by Louise Keller:
A spectacular performance by Vincent Cassel guarantees to keep us on the edge of our seat throughout this lengthy, but riveting true story about infamous French gangster Jacques Mesrine. Based on Mesrine's own book and brilliantly adapted by Abdel Raouf Dafri and Jean-François Richet who energetically and passionately directs the film (in two two-hour parts), we are fascinated from the start by this enigmatic cool-cat crim with the Bonnie and Clyde bank-robbing style and whose outrageously daring prison breaks are close to unbelievable. This is a story with plenty of everything. It's about a bad-boy with an eye for women, an entrepreneurial gangster cool in a crisis, a bank robber who makes up his own rules as he goes along and a celebrity who takes pride in his publicly declared status as Public Enemy Number One.

We are told the end of the story at the very beginning. Then we hear the whole tale in flashback as we leapfrog through the years. It starts in Algeria in 1959 and ends in Paris twenty years later. There is plenty of bloodshed in between. There's also the tender love affair with the lovely Sofia (Elena Anaya), who he meets in Spain, marries and fathers three children, his relationship with Jeanne (Cecile De France), who is 'up for anything', including a stint as housekeeper and chauffeur for a Montreal millionaire, and Sylvia (Ludivine Sagnier) who he meets in a bar and who enjoys the spoils. Times change but men don't, says Jacques, who boasts that no prison can hold him. There are four prison breaks and each is extraordinary. I found myself shaking my head in disbelief after one successful escape when Jacques actually returns to the prison from which he escapes.

A robust cast includes Gilles Lellouche as Jacques' long-time friend, Gérard Depardieu as crime boss Guido and Mathieu Amalric as François, a tough prisoner with whom Jacques teams up in jail for a freedom bid. Often sneaking right under the noses of the policemen who are chasing him, Jacques has nerves of steel, a sense of humour and abundant style. We also become involved in Jacques' relationships: with his father, his daughter and the journalist who dares to question his honour. Each part of the story is extraordinary, and even though we know what happens at the end, the lead up to the final sequence is one of the film's most tense.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As a biopic of a modern gangster, Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Mesrine: Public Enemy No 1 is close to a masterpiece; Vincent Cassel generates his characterisation of Jacques Mesri in outstanding style as a complex, multi-faceted man who is able to draw on our sympathies even as we draw back in horror at many of his actions. The film does not glorify him or his crimes, which are represented in all their sudden fury. Mesrine is shown to be what he was; a flawed human being, and not unlike millions of others who embark on a life of aggressive crime. A cocky sonofabitch with a sometimes charming exterior.

What makes this two part film so engaging is the combo of a damned good story (great script by Abdel Raouf Dafri), marvellous direction by Jean-Francois Richet and the fabulous cast. By necessity, the narrative often jumps ahead in time, but the filmmakers allow their audience enough intelligence to know we will follow, and jump with them from milestone to milestone. These milestones are not repetitive crimes, but a wild diversity of experiences that Masrine goes through, from the intimacy of relationships and brutal isolation in prison, to the bonhomie of swaggering with his cohorts about eluding the police. We know the ending from the beginning, but this doesn't lessen our compulsion as we see Mesrine grow in bravado, as his fame propels his hubris.

Brilliant support work from the likes of Gerard Depardieu, Cecil De France, Gilles Lellouche in Part 1, and in Part 2 from Mathieu Amalric, Ludivine Sagnier and Olivier Gourmet as the cop hunting him, gives the film tremendous energy and interest. The details are superbly conveyed, from the smallest to the largest, generating great veracity.

The many action scenes, like the prison breaks and chases, are captured with almost documentary realism, adding to the visceral hit of the film, making it eminently watchable whether released in two parts or at a single 4-hour stretch.

Email this article

Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(France, 2008)

Part 1: Mesrine: L'instinct de mort; Part 2: Mesrine: L'ennemi Public No 1

CAST: Part 1: Vincent Cassel, Cecile De France, Gerard Depardieu, Gilles Lellouche, Roy Dupuis, Elena Anaya, Florence Thomassin, Michel Duchaussoy;[BREAK]Part 2: Vincent Cassel, Ludivine Sagnier, Mathieu Amalric, Gerard Lanvin, Samuel Le Bihan, Olivier Gourmet

PRODUCER: Thomas Langmann, Maxime Remillard, Andre Roulaeu

DIRECTOR: Jean-Francois Richet

SCRIPT: Abdel Raouf Dafri


EDITOR: Bill Pankow, Herve Schneid

MUSIC: Marco Beltrami, Marcus Trumpp


RUNNING TIME: Part 1: 113 minutes; Part 2: 132 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Part 1: December 26, 2009; Part 2: January 7, 2010

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020