Jean-François Richet—who directed the tight, tough 2005 remake/re-imagining of John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13—presents a big two-part film about Jacques Mesrine, a notorious French criminal (think Dillinger crossed with Joe Pesci's Tommy in Goodfellas) whose exploits (at least in this first part) span much of the globe, from Algeria in the late 1950s to France to Quebec to Arizona—then back again. Along the way, he robs, tortures, kidnaps, murders, goes to prison, gets out, abuses his wife, loves her (and others), all the while inventing himself as a celebrity/political radical, prison reformer (with automatic weapons), and Gallic Clyde Barrow. Vincent Cassel—always good, particularly in Brotherhood of the Wolf and The Crimson Rivers (in which he manages to be as cool as Jean Reno, and that's saying something)—plays Mesrine without apologies, neither sympathetic nor demonic, his violent temperament constructed without prejudice. We're left to observe Mesrine as-is.
The best thing I can write about this movie is that I was sorry it was over. When some people read a good book, they speed up, hungry for each page. Me, I slow down. But I was greedy with Mesrine, and didn't pause it to leave the rest for another day. No, I held out to myself the promise of Part 2: Public Enemy No. 1 and finished up Part 1, sorry to see it go. I haven't watched Part 2 yet, but let this review stand for both. This is about as straightforward as gangster pictures come, moving with confidence and speed, like Mesrine himself robbing two banks in one minute.
NOTE: In my haste, I neglected to mention the supporting cast, headed by the always-charismatic Gerard Depardieu, along with two women—Elena Anaya (the abused wife) and Cécile De France (Mesrine's steel-plated Bonnie)—who effortlessly match the pace of their ferocious male co-star.