11-6-001Over on the other side of the English Channel, the incredible true story of Toni Musulin was a huge, national news event that was as inspiring as it was discomforting when taking place back in 2009. While over here we plead ignorance on the matter, Philippe Godeau’s compelling thriller 11.6 is all the better for it, as we are taken on a variety of quite unbelievable twists and turns.

Toni Musulin is played by François Cluzet, a hard-working, introverted security van driver who dedicates his life to his profession. However as he struggles to get on with his boss – and leads a somewhat unhappy life at home with his partner Marion (Corinne Masiero), he decides to attempt something outrageous; to single-handedly stage the greatest robbery in France’s history, without the use of guns or violence – with the grand total of €11.6 million at stake.

This hard-boiled slice of French cinema is complete with a dark, greyish aesthetic, almost as though our story has been told in the shadows, which is exactly where our protagonist believes himself to constricted to. It makes for a brooding, contemplative piece that is pensive and slow-burning. We discover at the very beginning that he’s a notorious criminal as the opening scene shows him turning himself in – yet it takes well over an hour into this film before Toni even seems bothered about breaking the law. This film is more about the build-up – what possessed him to go ahead with this crime, rather than the act itself.

The opening is incredibly effective, as we know instantly he has done something wrong, something illegal, and the film then plays out as an intriguing, captivating flashback, while the pacing is spot on – as we catch up with ourselves at the perfect opportunity. The only issue with this approach, is that for those who are unaware of this story, it means that when the crime takes place we had been expecting it, and for all of the intensity and anticipation we felt beforehand, it arrives without any element of surprise, which is a shame. The shift in tone is wonderfully judged however, as the entire film turns on its head in the final quarter of an hour, making for an immensely absorbing finale.

The pace to this piece is helped along by a sharp and witty screenplay. What also goes a long way, is having someone of Cluzet’s quality in the starring role, as he carries the film on his worthy shoulders. He displayed a sincere aptitude in Untouchable last year for heartfelt comedies, but it’s in thrillers such as this one where he comes into his element, with shades of his performance in the brilliant Tell No One – yet again portraying a dramatic, intense role with so much conviction, as the ideal antihero.

Godeau ensures we get on Toni’s side early on however, as although somewhat unappeasable and stern, he’s a respectable man of many morals. It’s an effective technique as it means that by the time he turns to crime, we’re already on his side and can see the world from his perspective. He’s the kind of guy who lends his colleagues money so they can take their dog to the vet. How could you not root for someone like that?