Note: this review will contain heavy spoilers, but given the history of this individual, I will say spoilers are warranted, and what I will write won’t spoil the overall viewing experience.

A figure so infamous he gets two movies? Where are my two movies?

Actually, given the extent of Jacques Mesrine (pronounced Ma-reen, or something akin to that) career as a bank robber, it’s worth two films, and by god, these two films are quite explosive.

I will note that it’s probably easier to see both of these films consecutively, as both have the same exact structure and would work better in one uninterrupted flow. I can also note that both of these films can be seen independent of each other, and in fact can be seen in reverse order (both films open with the same scene, or just about the same: the death scene of Mesrine), though I’m sure it would be weird seeing two films out of sequence.

The cast of characters don’t reappear from film to film though, save for Vincent Cassel as Mesrine. His father has one scene in the second film, though it would be good to see the first film to understand that particular death bed conversation. Outside of that, the supporting cast changes from the two films. Most everyone from the first film ends up dead or written out, the latter of which occurs because of their lack of importance in Mesrine’s life.

And what of the man himself, who knocked off dozens of banks, escaped from prison four times (of which two are shown, the first one being the more daring escape to me), murdered (supposedly) around 40 people, and wrote an autobiography while in prison, and which three-fourths of this film is taken from?

He was definitely eccentric and full of himself, loving his persona more and more with each passing day. He revels when he hears his name on radio, sees his face on television, and reads the front page article about himself. He also gets angry when he isn’t the news (the scene recounting the rise of Pinochet in Chile is quite hilarious). He’s often controlling, easily convincing women to stay with him, even when he gets violent (the one wife shown in the film – Sofia (changed from real life) – has three kids with him before leaving all of them to return to Italy). His Bonnie and Clyde mistress, Jeanne Schneider, was probably his most adventurous, and also probably the one who broke his heart the most: he wanted to spring her from jail, but with only a few weeks or months to go, told him no, and goodbye forever. His last girlfriend, Sylvie Jeanjacquot, was young and naive, and fell in love with his allure, but stuck around till the end, even when he started trying to be a revolutionary.

Mesrine was most successful as a bank robber, especially when he was settled in Quebec. He met a “free-Quebec” revolutionary, Jean-Paul Mercier, and together they robbed banks endlessly, often hitting two on the same stop. It was with Mercier that he staged the first breakout, and was nearly successful in leading a second, more massive breakout of the same prison. These and other sequences highlight the two films.

Which, incidentally, is what these films really are, just highlights in a long and illustrious career in crime. There is no narrative cohesion; rather, there are sections and frameworks that tells a particular part of the story, but don’t really lead into the next part. Often times, characters show up and nary a peep is made of their disappearance. Sofia we know returns to Italy because it’s mentioned, but other characters, like one of Mesrine’s future associates shows up and leaves, and I’m not even sure if he’s named. Like I said, highlights. Though, if we were given a full exploration of Jacques Mesrine, I think we’d need more than four hours.

Back to Vincent Cassel. His performance drives these films. I’ve only seen him once before I believe, in Eastern Promises, and his performance was excellent in the film (along with everyone else in that film). He encapsulated the full scope of Mesrine’s personality, from being despondent with the army to a minor robber to a full blown celebrity, showing the anger, rage, and passion he had for everything in his life, which mostly involved women, money, and enraging everyone around him. Mesrine, while we’re at it, had no sense of morals either, though I don’t think he killed anyone that he robbed from (though he did execute an innocent Muslim in the opening army scene). He started gaining some morality when he shifted to revolutionary (at least of the leftist militant variety), but even then his greatest concern was robbing banks and spending lavishly. Credit to Cassell where it’s due: his is probably the best leading performance I’ve seen thus far this year.

So an impressive achievement all around, though more for Cassel’s performance than anything else. It’s an impressive look at Mesrine’s life, and I definitely recommend seeing both, hopefully at the same time too.

Both films: B+

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