x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Mesrine: Public Enemy Number One

The director Jean-Francois Richet slows the pace in the second of two films about the terrorist Jacques Mesrine.

The director, Jean-Francois Richet, slows down the pace in the second part of his double bill about the notorious terrorist Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel). Like Steven Soderbergh's two-part biopic on Che Guevara, part two has a very different tone from part one. While Mesrine: Killer Instinct featured myriad action sequences, shoot-outs, escapes and arrests without much attempt at understanding what made Mesrine tick, the second half takes a more analytical and thoughtful approach. Those who like their films to primarily have character arc and development will enjoy this second part more than those in the audience drawn to action sequences and adrenaline rushes. By differentiating the tone, Richet posits that Mesrine became more contemplative and media-savvy before his dramatic death in a police ambush.

The second part was shot before the first to accommodate the fact that the star Cassel had to put on a considerable amount of weight to play the older Mesrine. He grows noticeably fatter as the film goes on. It's a typical, rambunctious performance from Cassel and, in being allowed to show a range that is more than the brawn and bravado of part one, he excels. Mesrine is fuelled by his success: he knows he has become a public figure and that seems to have become more important to him than his political beliefs. For example, when he realises that the German terrorist group The Red Brigade has knocked him off the front page, his reaction is to pen his memoirs. Even when he is locked up in prison, he doesn't want the public to forget who he is, so he sends out press releases on a regluar basis.

The change in tone and perspective of the second film is also reflected by a change in supporting cast. Gone is the need for a guiding hand to show him the ropes in the underworld, and instead we see lawyers. Fellow criminals, including the Mathieu Amalric character François Besse, now give Mesrine an automatic respect. Yet the fascination with celebrity is not enough to stop this film from suffering the same problems that beset the first episode. Too much time is wasted on action sequences. Richet, who made the American remake of Assualt on Precinct 13, obviously has a penchant for bangs, but these explosions come at the cost of story and pacing. The attempts at character development are also by and large wasted, as they become lost in costume changes and grandstanding shoot-outs. The action suffers, too, because apart from Amalric, there is a weakness in the supporting cast as Mesrine trots through a series of partners in crime.

Biopics always make it difficult for a director to maintain tension because the audience already knows how the story ends and, try as he might, Richet cannot make the ending seem exciting when it's known that Mesrine will die in a shoot-out. The film simply meanders towards its inevitable conclusion.