“The French Job.”
Director: Philippe Godeau
Cast: Francois Cluzet, Bouli Lanners, Corinne Masiero
Synopsis: Toni Musulin has worked as a security guard on an armored truck for 10 years. One day, with 11.6 million euros on board, he drives off without his two colleagues, committing the “heist of the century.”
More of a character study than a heist movie, Philippe Godeau’s 11.6 tells the story of Toni Musulin, a modest security van driver who pulled off France’s biggest armoured car robbery without using guns or violence, and who became one of the country’s biggest folk heroes in the process. Musulin’s tale is told in a strongly sympathetic light which is emphasised by the miscasting of popular actor Francois Cluzet, who is almost twenty years older than the real Musulin. This disparity in ages between the real Musulin, who was 40 when he committed the crime, and the 58-year-old Cluzet, provides a different perspective than if we saw the crime being carried out by a younger man. There’s more of an element of desperation about the film’s Musulin, you feel, an inescapable sense of his keen awareness that life is passing him by.
Despite this sympathetic depiction, Musulin doesn’t really come across as a particularly likeable character in the movie. He’s distant, remote and there’s something unsavoury about the way he grips in a Krav Maga hold any co-worker unlucky enough to be at the staff room vending machine when he wants to use it. He works as a driver for a security company called Ibris, transporting large volumes of money around the city of Nice and its surrounding environs. It’s a low-paid job, and Musulin socialises little with other staff apart from Arnaud (Bouli Lanners), a possibly mildly retarded or autistic man with poor sense in footwear and a white mouse for a pet. Despite Musulin’s remoteness to others, including his girlfriend Marion (Corinne Masiero), he displays a warmer side by lending money to Arnaud to pay for vet bills for his sick dog.
Musulin shares with many people that twisted frustration at not truly being able to enjoy the lifestyle he desires or feels that he deserves. Noticeably tight with money, he nevertheless buys a second-hand Ferrari at an auction in a futile attempt to at least claim a taste of that life he desires for himself. He regularly tans his face with a small tanning machine and works out at the gym, where he tells the trainers he owns a restaurant (his girlfriend has a tiny, run-down cafe). All these details are revealed over an hour or so which at times feels so drawn out that it’s necessary to quell our irritation. There’s a reason why Godeau and co-writer Agnes de Sacy devote so much time to Musulin’s relationships, though, and that’s to emphasise an aspect of a heist movie that is rarely explored. The fact that, by illegally acquiring a life of wealth and privilege, one inevitably cuts oneself off from those one loves, and becomes irredeemably exiled from the life they knew.
Musulin is prudent enough with money to notice that he’s receiving three minutes less pay per day than Arnaud, despite working the same hours, and it’s this, together with his boss’s refusal to allow him a day off for a funeral that appears to tip him over the edge and prompts him to plan the extraordinary heist that made him famous. This planning and preparation slowly takes up a growing amount of time on screen, so that images of Musulin’s daily life take on a new perspective, one in which the Musulin everyone knows becomes a disguise to conceal the real motivations for the things he does. Musulin is so successful at alienating those closest to him, and is seen to do so with so little display of emotion, that he comes across as something of a sociopath with no ability for empathy for others.
Whether the real Musulin cut away with such cold calculation the people that tied him down to the life from which he sought to escape is open to debate. He’s shown to be doing it for the best of reasons — for their protection in the wake of the robbery — but he appears to pay no emotional debt for doing so, and in fact heads off to the Alps in pursuit of Natalia (Juana Acosta), a beautiful, but probably unattainable, mountain guide, he briefly met at a nightclub months before. That she remains unattainable after the robbery suggests a message from the film’s makers rather than true life, even if it is the most likely outcome.
11.6 is a surprisingly sober, downbeat account of a momentous robbery which briefly united a nation in admiration of one man’s rebellion against the system. It admirably resists the temptation to be the feel-good fan movie it could so easily have been, but while it benefits from this approach, it leaves too many questions unanswered. Why for example, does Musulin spend so much time building a fake wall in the garage in which he stores his getaway van and loot? The obvious assumption to make is that he plans to conceal at least some of the money behind it, but when we see the police tear down the wall they find only a single coin. Is this supposed to be Musulin taunting the police, which seems somewhat out of character, or is Godeau suggesting that, because 2.5 million Euros of the stolen 11.6 million was never recovered, that the police hived off a little reward money for themselves? After all, that 2.5 million has never been found, and the now free Musulin (he was jailed for just three years — the maximum allowed for robberies in which no guns or violence are used) claims he doesn’t have it. But then, of course, he would, wouldn’t he?