With the last installment in the incredible tale of Jacques Mesrine, Mesrine: Public Enemy #1, it is easy and somewhat impossible not to draw comparisons to the style of Quentin Tarantino. To begin with, the story has two volumes, just as Kill Bill does, and the bloodshed can, at times, seem to be displayed just for the sake of display. The entire motif of guns, girls, and gangsterdom kind of falls into the early Tarantino realm as well. But this is a French movie and, as much as the French may respect Tarantino's characteristic approach, they rarely appreciate comparisons to others, least of all Americans. So back to Mesrine.
When we last left him in Mesrine: Killer Instinct, he had just fled from yet another prison after he and his girlfriend were extradited to Quebec for the kidnapping of a millionaire named Georges Deslauriers, who had previously employed him as a chauffeur. Public Enemy #1 finds us in 1979, the year of his death, just before he is about to be essentially executed by the French police. But before this happens, director Jean-Francois Richet flashes back to 1973, in yet another instance of Mesrine being apprehended by French authorities. He was not to stand for being caged for very long though. That's the thing about bona fide criminals: When you cage them they're liable to implode or explode. Mesrine preferred the latter action, affecting everyone around him with his knack for cultivating and severing alliances as new situations arose.
Once Mesrine is contained and put in a maximum security prison called La Santé (which ironically translates to "the health"), he meets one of those strategic alliances, Francois Besse (Mathieu Amalric). Besse, too, has miraculously beaten the odds of maximum security prisons and broken out three times, the same amount as Mesrine. The two formulate a plan to escape together, biding their time until the right moment, which comes five years into Mesrine's twenty year sentence.
Never contented with his achievements, Mesrine cannot simply enjoy the success of being prematurely free--he has to engage in some type of crime again. His methods start to wear on Besse, especially after Mesrine meets and romances Sylvie Jeanjacquot (Ludivine Sagnier), a much younger woman who he picks up in a bar one day after following her through the streets for several blocks (and yeah, that is as creepy as it sounds, but French people make unbridled lust seem way more acceptable and just plain natural). Without Besse to harness in Mesrine's antics with the press and his erratic decision-making, the illustrious bank robber's days look as though they will be one-digited.
What differentiates Public Enemy #1 from Killer Instinct is that the former gives far more insight into the nature of Mesrine's persona and what inspires and spurs him to the insane courses of action he takes. In an interview with a French reporter, Mesrine is asked, "Why are you doing this?" The response is shockingly akin to how a large majority of law-abiding, menial job-holding people must feel: "I don't like the laws and I don't want to be a slave of the alarm clock my whole life. I don't want to spend my entire life dreaming. I don't want to always think how I have to work half a year just so I could buy something."
And so Mesrine does not. He does not live a life of ordinariness and silent contempt. But he pays a price for it, just as normal citizens of the world pay a certain price for allowing themselves to be herded like sheep. Yet somehow, Mesrine's price seems slightly lower than ours.