The Assault (French: L’assaut), 2010.
Directed by Julien Leclercq.
Starring Vincent Elbaz, Grégori Derangère, Mélanie Bernier, Philippe Bas, Aymen Saïdi, Marie Guillard, Antoine Basler, Fatima Adoum and Hugo Becker.
The Assault (L’assaut), based on a true story, covers an Air France plane in Algiers, as it is taken hostage by Muslim terrorists. A GIGN team (the French special forces) are tasked with rescuing the hostages, to save Paris from a deadly fate.
Many viewers may not remember the events shown in The Assault, taking place on Christmas Eve in 1994, myself included. However, its focus on terrorism, especially the hijacking of a plane, resonates with most of the audience, and such an intimate and detailed retelling of this catastrophic event will stir even the most detached viewer to emotion.
The Assault is directed by Julien Leclerq, who had only directed twice before this feature, one of which was a short film. So, I was happily surprised to find that, especially with the sensitive subject matter, he did not fail to present a compelling and suspenseful story. He delves into the life of Denis Favier, the leader of the GIGN team that assaults the plane. We meet his wife and young daughter, which are, I assume, meant to personalise Favier to the audience, so that we observe the development of the hijacking with the fearful face of his wife, who waits in the police station canteen.
However, there’s not quite enough depth given to Favier’s family life, and so the inclusion of his wife’s tearful face feels more a distraction, than a meaningful addition to the story. Each time the camera cut from the action to the family, I was desperately impatient to return to the more pertinent and dramatic scenes on the plane.
Elsewhere, we follow Carole, a keen young Frenchwoman working in the Foreign Ministry. While her older male colleagues seem willing to talk until the cows come home, she takes matters into her own (capable) hands. Investigating the terrorists and making reckless plans, she drives the drier side of the action, which was refreshing to watch. I found myself cheering for her as an underdog, and hoping her risky strategies paid off.
Perhaps unusually, we also see some scenes from the terrorists’ perspective. The camera observes them with interest as they prepare for their mission, and as they periodically pray together. These brief moments show each hijacker to be human too, making their mission even more incomprehensible.
Unfortunately, Leclerq does not seem to have showed the events as clearly as he could have done. Perhaps assuming that everyone watching is familiar with the story, some scenes seem to appear from nowhere. The French police occasionally turned up where I did not remember them going, and some decisions seemed to be taken without anyone discussing them. He also spent an unusual amount of time focusing on the reactions of one young Muslim woman on board the plane, so I expected her to take a key role at the climax. Instead, we never see her again, which made me wonder why so much valuable screen time was spent on her.
Despite these directorial slip ups, I found The Assault to be gripping and emotional, and I especially liked the muted palette used throughout. Leclerq is a director to watch!
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★