How Hollywood Inspired France’s Most Daring Prison Escape
Charismatic gangster Rédoine Faïd has said that Michael Mann’s 1995 film Heat inspired his criminal career—and in 2009, Faïd found the Hollywood filmmaker to tell him so.
On Sunday, 46-year-old French gangster and charismatic criminal Rédoine Faïd pulled off a prison break so bold and extraordinarily executed that even authorities seemed a bit impressed.
France’s Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet called the getaway from the prison in Réau, France, “a spectacular escape.” The operation—completed in under 10 minutes on Sunday morning—involved Faïd’s accomplices kidnapping a helicopter pilot; directing the helicopter to the single prison courtyard unprotected by overheard netting; and launching smoke bombs as a distraction while masked men cut through an armed door with an angle grinder and grabbed Faïd. Belloubet explained that it was “an extremely well-prepared commando that may have used drones to survey the area beforehand.”
Given this elaborate getaway, the most surprising trivia note about Faïd definitely isn’t that he previously escaped prison. (In 2013, he escaped from a prison outside of Lille, France, by “seizing four guards as human shields and blowing several doors off with dynamite,” according to the BBC.) What is surprising about Faïd, however, is that he is kind of a movie nerd.
In fact, he holds Heat and its filmmaker Michael Mann in such high esteem that the career criminal has incorporated homages to both in his crimes, and even sought out Mann for a face-to-face meeting in 2009.
Incredibly, there is Internet video to immortalize this encounter. Proving himself a true Mann fan, Faïd made his way to a panel discussion with the filmmaker organized by the Cinémathèque Française to coincide with the 2009 release of Public Enemies. After sitting through the moderated conversation in Paris, Faïd got his hands on a microphone during the audience Q&A. Faïd had recently been released from prison—where he served 10 years for assorted armed robberies and jewel heists—and explained as much to the filmmaker (and audience).
“Heat remains the absolute [example] of organized crime, inspired by life, by people—real facts—he tries to transmit them in his cinema,” Faïd began (via translation). “I personally, I am a former gangster, unfortunately, I do not brag about it. I just spent 10 years in prison. I attacked armored vans. . . . For 20 years, I’ve known Michael Mann. I discovered him with Thief, and, with a bunch of friends, we’ve watched his films a bit as reports, as documentaries, and sometimes even . . . ”
Faïd, starstruck as he was, stumbled a bit before regaining his focus.
“Recently, journalists asked me, ‘You know, you had a big criminal career, and you did it yourself, you’re self-taught.’ I told them, ‘No, I had a technical adviser, a college teacher, a kind of mentor, and his name is Michael Mann.’”
Amazingly, the moderator seemingly interrupted Faïd—a convicted felon—and told him to get to his point.
“My question is simple: is he aware that there are gangsters who can draw inspiration from his cinema?”
Faïd did not stop there though. He continued by noting that his wife actually hates Mann. “She would like to ask [Mann] for damages and interest. When I told [her] the day before yesterday that I was going to realize a dream, that I was going to meet someone who was part of my life for 20 years, she said to me: ‘Who, Beyoncé?’ I said, ‘No, it’s Michael Mann.’”
Mann, visibly thrown by this admission, responded, “Thank you for that, I don’t know how to respond.”
Faïd has reportedly seen Heat seven times in the cinema and “a hundred times” at home “to analyze the key passage of the steering of the van,” according to Le Figaro. “During a robbery in Villepinte, France, in 1997, Faïd had the idea of wearing a hockey mask, a ‘wink’ to Michael Mann.”
Faïd allegedly referenced other favorite films while committing his real-life crimes. While robbing a jewelry store, for example, he acknowledged his accomplices as colors—like “Mr. White”—in a nod to Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.(Better that than the ear sequence!) During a Point Break-inspired bank robbery, Faïd and his accomplices disguised themselves as French presidents Charles de Gaulle and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and quoted the movie mid-heist.
In 2010, Faïd published an autobiography, Gangster: From the Slums to Big Crime,in which he described his twin loves for film and crime. (Though he alleged his crime career was over.) In the book, Faïd recalled a scene in Sleepers inspiring a high-school heist. He also claimed to have paid $3,500 to sleep in the same Las Vegas hotel suite that Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise’s characters shared in Rain Man.
On Sunday morning, after breaking out of jail, Faïd and his accomplices reportedly forced the helicopter pilot to fly to Gonesse, near Charles de Gaulle airport, where someone was waiting with a black Renault Mégane getaway car. The pilot was released unharmed and the helicopter was discovered burned out.
Nearly 3,000 French police are currently searching for Faïd, who was “serving a 25-year sentence for a failed robbery during which a police officer was killed.”
Somewhat poetically, Faïd once said, “Take away the cinema, and you would have 50 percent less crime.”