Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 is the second of two films that make up Richet's version of the story of Jacques Mesrine: a gangster, a thief, a kidnapper and a killer. My reaction to Mesrine: Killer Instinct is found Here.
In the first film it was understood that what we were seeing was based on Mesrine's autobiography, an account of his life he later disavowed, claiming he was a hero on the street and that it kept people entertained. Now I'm not so sure how much of his side was a lie, if anything at all.
Public Enemy No. 1 differs from the first film in that it has a lot more action but is a bit less interesting. Whereas earlier we were introduced to the character and trying to keep up with his mind and instincts, we're now keeping up with his continuing downward spiral, and when he lays out his reasons for the "Why," we can see right through all the bullshit. Twice when cornered, once physically by the police and once in an emotional appeal for his own righteousness, he tries to pass himself off as part of the RAF, the Baader-Meinhof gang. This was especially interesting insight for me, having watched The Baader Meinhof Complex between my screenings of the Mesrine films. (And, wow -- were the 70s really that volatile a time in Europe? I had no idea. I was born just a month before the Baader-Meinhof partnership launched.)
As in the first film, there's not a whole lot here to talk about in terms of plot. Mesrine has friends and foes; he works with different accomplices and girlfriends. He robs banks, kidnaps rich men, avoids the police, gets arrested, and of course as a prisoner, his raison d'être -- he lives to break out of jail. Over the course of his criminal career, he broke out four times, the last of which being the first time anyone escaped from the maximum security of La Santé Prison, before that thought an inescapable facility.
So the second film plays more like a typical gangster/prison film with Mesrine breaking out or on the run for a good portion of it.
From the intoxicating intro in Mesrine: Killer Instinct, we already know Mesrine's fate (he's gonna get kilt, and bad), and thus we already know the ending of this film, too -- but we're taken through the scene one last time as it neatly bookends the films together. This time it plays quite differently, though. There is no split screen and no editing tricks, and the story is told from the point of view of The Law. We hear police in walkie-talkie conversation -- they're waiting in ambush, and we see how tense things are even as they wait to jump Mesrine. We sense nervousness and the fear of the cops even as they're armed and outnumber him, maybe twenty armed men to one.
From the tiny bit of research I can do on the web, apparently the ending is true to life. It seems the French authorities had simply had enough of this thug. No more courts, no more prison, no more grand gestures to the press and certainly no more book sales. Mesrine was executed in his car in the middle of the street, shot over and over by at least four or five men with machine guns, a final shot put in his head from close distance to make sure he was dead after being riddled with bullets. I know nothing about French laws or rights, but they seem somewhat like American laws and rights, and this looks about as horrible as something like the U.S. atrocities in Waco. Every country has that dark stain, I guess. Even for grounded institutions, justice and vengeance are a fine line to tread. The problem here is all that political bullshit I described Mesrine spreading before probably became more palatable after his country decided that rather than putting him through the system once again, it was easier just to gun him down. I wonder if that lead to greater chaos, even if they thought gunning him down might bring about more peace.
Sometimes there's infinite ugliness wherever you look. The end of Jacques Mesrine, the life and the film, is a pretty good example of this.