Rating: 3 stars out of 5
The Stars: Vincent Elbaz, Grégori Derangère, Mélanie Bernier
The Buzz: Based on real events that occurred over three days in December 94, L’Assaut is odd in the sense that not only was it a successful mission… it was broadcast live on television as the mission was taking place. The footage is used in the movie near the end.
The Story: In an eerie foreshadowing of 9/11, a group of Algerian extremists from the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) hijack an Air France plane in Algiers, Algeria. The French responds and tries to negotiate with the militants but to no avail. The movie is joined by three central storylines: We start with a French GIGN (French counter terrorism unit, all the nerds who played Counter-Strike extensively should recognize them) trooper named Thierry (Elbaz) whose work puts him in line of danger, much to the dismay of his wife who doesn’t seem to understand why he does what he does. Foreign Ministry analyst Carole, who gathers evidence and negotiates with the militants, only to find out they aren’t interested in negotiating. She then cuts through the usual administration red tape to ensure she is heard, even if the upper brass doesn’t like it. And then finally, we have the hijackers, a mix of single minded men and kids who seem overawed by what they’re attempting to do.
InSingsays: As an action movie, L’Assaut (that’s the French title for ya) more than delivers. The whole “shakycam” style of filming may be bordering on the status of an overused cliché to transform any film into a gritty product but we really can’t argue with its use here. Coupled with a desaturated colour palette that borders on almost black and white, the film lends itself a historical and somewhat depressing feel. The film particularly excels at its close action sequences and has probably the best extended close quarter shoot out scene we’ve seen in a film thus far.
When watching the film, we found it familiar to Paul Greengrass’ United 93. It’s probably because of the subject matter but both films are high in tension value and very anxiety inducing, especially when the film starts building to the final assault. However, unlike United 93, Assault’s attempts to make us care for the characters do not really work. The film tries to show how the crisis is affecting people directly and indirectly through the families or for the hostages.
Even though there were some heart wrenching scenes between characters such as the scene between Yahia, the leader of the armed group, and his mom’s plea to stop the hostage situation, we aren’t given a lot of exposition to better understand them more. For example, the opening scene of Thierry botching up a domestic operation is seemingly superfluous and was hard for viewers to associate with. We had our suspicions that it was supposed to motivate Thierry but no one had a clear idea. It’s certainly more of a fill in the gaps yourself movie sometimes due to the frequent cross cutting between the plane situation, the political negotiations and GIGN training. Thus, we had a certain feeling that it was more of the plot and the grand stakes of the event itself that had us on the edge of our seats, rather than the dreaded feeling of watching a character die.
The actors deliver performances that are varied. The French forces at times seem like a caricature of themselves, with hardly any personality shown. The terrorists are given the leash when it comes to personality and we can clearly see the ordeal taking a toll on them. Aymen Saidi who portrays Yahia, is a highlight as the fanatical leader who kills in cold blood but appears as a conflicted pawn when confronted by his mother.
That’s not to take away from the movie at all because it’s still a well-produced film that has its head in the right places. The nature of the movie lends itself to an intense amount of tension as the situation builds up and it’s hard not to get caught up in that. Definitely worth a watch for fans of action.