Some gangsters like to operate in the shadows; others court fame. Jacques Mesrine belonged to the latter group. Unlike most criminals, Mesrine came from a middle-class background and was a decent, if disruptive, student in his youth.
But a tour as a French soldier during the French-Algerian War seems to have tipped him over into a life of crime. The French-Algerian conflict was at least as horrific as the Vietnam War and Mesrine later alleged that he was charged with executing prisoners of war. Once out of the army, Mesrine tried conventional life for a bit but soon drifted into a career as France's most notorious bank robber, kidnapper, murderer and escape artist, eventually earning the title of France's Public Enemy No. 1.
In between busting out of multiple prisons (including France's supposedly escape-proof La Santé), he penned his life story, such that it's hard to know where the real life ends and the legend begins. But there's no doubt that before he was gunned down by Parisian cops in 1979, Mesrine had racked up an extraordinary criminal resume [source: Bradshaw].
A life lived this large couldn't be squeezed into a single film, so director Jean-François Richet tells it in two parts. Vincent Cassel's blistering portrayal of the master criminal earned him rave reviews and helped establish the bio-pic as an instant classic of the gangster genre.