Always handsome in its burnished
gun-metal and sepia tones, and immediately involving, Julien (Chrysalis)
Leclercq's The Assault nonetheless feels like less than the
sum of its parts. Based on the true story of a 1994 raid on a hijacked
Air France jetliner, The Assault does a nifty job of capturing
all the real-world details you'd want in a piece like this, and often
employs the close-in, faux-verité style that someone like Paul Greengrass
made terrific use of in United 93. The problem is, the ambitious
film can't quite decide whether it should be a behind-the-scenes docudrama,
a geo-political cat-and-mouse exercise between the terrorists and the
French government, or an intimate portrait of one family affected by
the crisis. As a result, it winds up being an example of that unfortunate
cinematic compromise, the mild, "sensitive" thriller.
To be sure, in the moments
before the actual assault, Leclercq and the film's editors do a bang-job
of milking the situation for every last drop of suspense. But sadly
it's a case of too-little/too-late, especially as the effectively
orchestrated firefight is then crosscut with, and undermined by, several
repetitive shots of a concerned mom/wife viewing the action on live
television (millions of French watched as the events unfolded). "Oh
me, oh my!" her expression continually conveys, to the point where
things become downright embarrassing. Can those few moments be overlooked?
Perhaps. It's just hard when the same character has been accompanied
by a teddy bear-toting tyke the entire movie (that's right, a teddy
bear) who occasionally asks innocently after Daddy. Such triteness might
be bearable in a pulpy treatment of the same general topic--a remake,
say, of the old Chuck Norris vehicle The Delta Force--but seems
deeply at odds with the smart, A-level production to which The Assault
The picture is on much surer
ground when following the efforts of a resourceful Foreign Ministry
staffer played winningly by Mélanie Bernier. Using her knowledge of
Arabic to uncover clues about the hijackers' ultimate goal, she comes
across as a Jack Ryan-esque figure as if portrayed by a decade-younger
Cécile De France: you want her to be the point-of-view character for
the entire movie. In contrast with this dimensional character, lead
Vincent Elbaz's is no more than a noble symbol; worse still, the attempts
to humanize the Algerian terrorists feel like little more than "thoughtful"
gestures. We've simply seen too many similar movies--we know, for
example, that terrorists might pray before taking action, so such a
scene is not as disarming or revealing as it seems to think it is.
Similarly, though it might be unfair to compare The Assault to Olivier Assayas's Carlos, which featured a hijacking as its dramatic center piece, it's difficult not to. Also based on historical events, Carlos's middle act is vivid, evocative, and gripping. Yes, The Assault shares some of those traits, but only for a few minutes at a stretch.