Despite setting the bar high with Killer Instinct, Mesrine finishes in a big way with Public Enemy No. 1. Vincent Cassel is in even better form as an older Jacques Mesrine, whose ego is so out of control he teeters on insanity. What this means for the audience is great entertainment and a great conclusion to an explosive life story. Fans of the first part won’t be let down in the slightest with part two, but those tuning in for only the second half may wonder how a criminal so damn crazy could be so successful.
Public Enemy No. 1 picks up some time after the Killer Instinct ended. Jacques is back in France looking older and heavier. What hasn’t changed is his confidence. He’s still pulling bank heists and running circles around the law. It isn’t long before Mesrine is busted yet again, only to free himself during the middle of his courtroom arraignment. On the lamb for only a little while, he’s finally thrown back in jail. Still proving that nothing can keep him in check, he escapes another prison with a new partner, Francois Besse (Mathieu Amalric). Soon Jacques meets pretty young thing, Sylvie Jeanjacquot (Ludivine Sagnier) and immediately the two engage in a passionate affair. Francois prefers to lay low, but Mesrine has been affected beyond recovery by his time in prison. Mesrine is completely lost in the thrill of crime and is intoxicated by the incredible amount of fame his high profile deeds have brought him. After Francois can take no more, Mesrine and a new partner kidnap yet another billionaire. Nothing slows down for Jacques at this point. He becomes involved with a radical anti-government group. Despite Sylive’s objections to leave it all while they still can, Jacques sets his guns on society as a whole.
Public Enemy No. 1 is a somewhat different experience than the first film, but manages to still tell the story of Mesrine’s life in a rich and entertaining matter. Where the first half spent considerable amounts of time detailing his love life, Public Enemy No. 1 does not. This is a good thing for fans that may have been disinterested in the romantics of Mesrine’s life. Public Enemy No. 1 is almost entirely about Jacques and his runaway ego. His last mistress is an important character for sure, but she’s overshadowed. The role suits Sagnier well. She’s totally believable as a naive young girl who seems only interested in living for the thrill of the moment – if only until it’s too late.
Cassel himself is even more compelling to watch in this installment. While he was completely convincing in Killer Instinct, he’s at a career best in Public Enemy No. 1. He’s utterly embraced the image of Mesrine in the 1970’s. He’s stylish and full of energy, never seeming to hold back in any take. Even more impressive, is the weight the actor put on to accurately portray a forty-year-old Jacques Mesrine. It’s a complete transformation that shows a total commitment to the role. It pays off in a huge way.
Part two is funnier than Killer Instinct as well. While the first installment had a few laughs woven into the drama, Public Enemy No. 1 has many gags that are outright comedy. This may turn off purists, but it does add to the entertainment value of the film overall and also lends to making Mesrine seem even larger than life then he really could have been. The whole audience was laughing during a scene where Jacques eludes the police and wades neck deep into a river, only to throw away a huge portion of a recent score, foolishly thinking he could throw to the far bank. His frustration becomes tangible when he sees a boat not ten feet away from where he entered the water. It’s a goofy scene, but lends itself to illustrate Mesrine’s devil may care attitude about his money. He knows he can just steal more.
Everything comes together in Public Enemy No. 1. It’s an excellent conclusion to a story that’s so ridiculous it really has to be seen to be believed. This film shouldn’t be viewed before seeing Killer Instinct first though as the story starts right off with Mesrine at his wildest. There’s no steady exposure to Jacques Mesrine to draw you into the story as there is in Killer Instinct. That being said, both films are probably best enjoyed as a whole, but rest assured Public Enemy No. 1 is good. Anyone who even slightly enjoyed Killer Instinct owes it to themselves to see just how big Jacques Mesrine really became.