This second half of Jean-Francois Richert’s gangster epic is slightly more disjointed, but its arguments make for a richer film. Removed from the more straightforward narrative arc of Mesrine’s early career and his marriages (his first is skipped in the former film), Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 echoes the peripatetic nature of this thief’s occupation. The film feels like a string of narrow escapes and increasingly brazen (and, from the perspective of 2010, pretty damn insane) robberies. Practically every scene is conducted in broad daylight, almost as if they were deliberate provocations designed for maximum publicity. (It also helps that the police are also remarkably incompetent.)
With his cheekbones, scarily gaunt features, and what seems like a perpetual sneer, Vincent Cassel has a face made for gangster movies. But there’s no denying his low-key charm as well (though I think my women friends would disagree with “low-key”) — witness the twinkle in his eye when, like a shark, he encircles his female prey — and in that sense he’s wonderfully suited to play Jacques Mesrine, notorious robber of banks and jewelry stores and wanted in probably just as many countries. A smooth criminal indeed.