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The Assault (L' Assaut)

DVD Four Stars
The trailer for The Assault (L' Assaut) sold me on the film almost immediately, the dramatised story of the hijacking of the Air France Flight 8969 on the 24th of December 1994 by hijackers who it later transpired planned to explode the plane over or into the Eiffel Tower. On 26th of December the plane was stormed by members of the Groupe d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN) a special operations unit of the French Armed Forces prepared for counter terrorist and hostage rescue missions.

The events are true and for the most part the film tells the story of what happened from when the plane was hijacked to when it was finally stormed, an assault that proved shocking and incredibly decisive.

The Assault (L' Assaut) tells the story of the hijack but most importantly of the assault itself, steering away from the political side to concentrate on the actual events. Rather than some heroic action film this is presented as a strong thriller which is well worth watching and Filmstalker Recommended.

Plot.pngTheAssault.jpgOn 24th December 1994 four heavily armed terrorists from the Algerian Armed Islamic Group hijacked and Air France Flight 8969 set to fly to Paris from Algiers. Onboard the 227 passengers seemed destined for tragedy as the kidnappers demanded fuel and immediate take-off. Negotiations began and eventually they were allowed to leave the airport for a further destination.

The Assault looks to the events of the three days of the hijack following three main characters to tell the story, the GIGN officer Thierry played by Vincent Elbaz, the jihadist leader of the group played by Aymen Saidi, and an ambitious worker from the French Interior Ministry played by Mélanie Bernier.

TheFilm.pngThe Assault builds the story very well and keeps the concentration of the film on the thriller rather than descending into an action or political film as hostage rescue films can so often do. The key difference here is the focus on reality as actual footage from the events is included in the film and the screenplay is adapted from the book of the same name which was co-written by Roland Môntins ( /
), the leader of the GIGN assault.

From the book Simon Moutairou and Julien Leclercq have adapted the screenplay which Leclercq has directed tightly and created a slowly building tension that explodes during the unbelievable assault and delivers some gripping sequences that hold a number of surprises right to the very end.

There are three key threads to this film and I was surprised that the political thread was managed to be kept down so much. While it is apparent with the character of Carole, the member of the French Interior Ministry that there was a fair degree of politics in the background it doesn't take over the film and detract from the main threads, those of the assault team and the hijackers, even though this thread does make it very clear that there were a lot of politics involved.

I do think the balance here is right, although I would have liked to have seen some more of the political thread as I am partial to a good political thriller I wonder how much benefit it would have brought. The story shows that the politics involved aren't very thrilling and but what we do get is the explanation of the negotiations and a hint of how complex and difficult they were. If they had created a more political thriller thread to counterpoint the rest of the story I'm sure it would have strayed from the factual feel.

The back story to our three main characters is kept light enough for us to connect with Thierry, the GIGN team member, and understand that the terrorists are not the usual film baddies brought through the terrorist leader.

The terrorists are given some depth and reality to them as well, giving us a realisation that they aren't just murderers but there is something a little more to them, again building that feeling of reality more than the shelf-selected characters made for film. However they don't lose their edge and there's a real sense of menace here just as much as there is of actual people behind the terrorist faces. So often in these films there's not a feeling that they really could do others harm without a second thought, but these characters do exude menace and a very palpable danger.

We're also cleverly shown the mind of Thierry early on and he really does become the key character and the eyes of the audience. By injecting the element of doubt into the character it helps build an uncertainty and growing tension throughout, and the way his story plays out helps deliver a very different kind of hijack rescue film. Again, reminding us that this is a real story and doesn't just follow movie rules.

These early scenes with his character really do deliver later on in the film and it shows just how important emotional connection with characters is. Saying that I would have liked just a little more connection but again this is right on the line of being too little or just enough and I wonder if a version with a little more would also have caused the audience to be distracted from the main truth of the story.

It also helps that as the action begins we stay with Thierry, even as events unfold we stay with his perspective which, as you'll see, does seem rather odd at first but it gives the series of action sequences a completely different feel, not only as though we are witnessing the events as they happen but also giving the camera a reason to be there to the point I almost forgot it was being filmed.

When the assault actually does come you'll find that the rest of the film has built well to this point and it begins to deliver much more than you expected. The action sequences, which are surprisingly long and at times seem as though they couldn't be made up by an action choreographer, feel stunningly real and almost as though you were part of it. Aided in no part by the cinematic style and the decision to stay with the lead character rather than jump cutting all over the place.

There are no gung-ho fancy action heroes here and you feel the consequences of weapon fire, especially in such a small space and it does actually feel frightening. You feel the bullets, the violence bites and you wince as it hits.

Reality is key for the GIGN team and it looks as though they have been heavily trained in tactics or indeed are the real team as they storm through the plane. This just adds to the overall feeling of realism throughout the film and clearly shows you the difference between cinematic violence and the reality of a violent situation.

The moments where we cut away from the action to the politicians, the watching team and family members or even to cut to some real life footage is well timed and did nothing to dull the tension or deaden the action, in fact it seemed to heighten it. The use of real life footage is never too much either; it's just a few scenes which are just enough to add the realism without you starting to become absorbed. Surprisingly they also use a couple of strong scenes, again adding to the ever growing weight on the audience.

The tension doesn't let up right to the closing moments and I have to admit that I was incredibly wound up by the story and at the end rather moved. It's when the reality of the story returns to you again that the emotions come forward a little, although to be fair that feeling of reality never really leaves.

I do wonder just how factual these events are and would love to read the book as some of the actions of the GIGN team members were amazing to the point where I was staring in disbelief and reciting the events I'd just witnessed to my wife afterwards.

The Assault has an interesting and engaging cinematic style which mixes hand-held and close perspective camera work with muted tones, all combining to give a reality based look and feel to the film as well as connecting it to the actual footage that is used. The picture is sharp and crisp and your focus is kept on what is happening in the film not so much what you are watching.

Audio.pngStereo, Dolby Digital 5.1
The audio really made use of the 5.1 delivering the explosions and gunfire in the action sequences through the speakers around you. In the assault itself you feel in the middle of the action and the sound is used as another element to pull you into these scenes. It would have been much better on the DTS Master that the Blu-ray disc boasts, but unfortunately I only had the DVD to watch.

Disappointingly there were no extras, something I find surprising considering how much real life footage there would be of the incident itself as well as what we could have had with all the press on the event and the book that was adapted for the film. There must be so much material out there we could surely have seen more footage, press cuttings, interviews, etc. Surprising then that there is nothing.

Overall.pngThe Assault (L' Assaut) is very strong film which builds to really deliver in and throughout the closing act right up to the final scene. The story and characters are developed really well and while there is a lot left unsaid on the political side and the events out with the GIGN the concentration is on the plane, the terrorists and the GIGN themselves, and that makes the thriller and that final payoff even stronger. The political aspects could have been used to build more of a thriller behind the film, but it could also have distracted from the main thread of it.

The assault itself is superbly filmed, choreographed and with the sound design puts you right in the plane with the action showing the bravery and stunning drive of the GIGN team as well as the amazing events of that day.

This isn't your typical terrorist hijack film and the style, cinematography and writing all build to that superbly strong closing act. I may even watch it a second time, even without a director's commentary to have to watch, and that's praise indeed.

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