(2010)2.5Perry SeibertBased on actual events, director Julien Leclercq's thriller The Assault is an uneasy mix of docudrama realism and over-edited action set pieces that ends up suffering most from a subpar script.
The movie opens on Thierry (Vincent Elbaz), a French special-forces soldier attempting to resolve a domestic dispute that has snowballed into a shooting. After this, we learn that his wife wants him to quit working such a dangerous job. But that doesn't stop Thierry from following orders to rescue the hostages on a hijacked French plane that's been commandeered by Muslim terrorists.
Leclercq cuts between three main strands of action: the rescue team's preparations to storm the plane, the hijackers on the aircraft, and the attempts by Carole (Melanie Bernier), a French security official, to figure out who is really behind the attack and the best way to address the problem. As the final confrontation gets under way, television news broadcasts the raid live, much to the horror of Thierry's wife.
The Assault works best as a straightforward docudrama. Carole's labyrinthine journey through the highest levels of power and international criminals is as compelling as similar sequences in Paul Greengrass' United 93, in which officials worked as quickly as possible to figure out exactly what was going on. In addition, Elbaz has a fantastic face -- haunted and tired, but strong. His presence humanizes a character that's short on any actual development.
Sadly, the final confrontation is edited with no feel at all for cinematic space. We get a sense of chaos and disorder, but that doesn't fit with the commandos' careful preparation before their attempt to take the grounded plane back from the terrorists. Leclercq does edit real footage from the incident into the movie, which is a very savvy decision, and the execution refutes any charge of sensationalism. However, on the downside, there's a gratuitous shot of Thierry's wife in tears that makes us assume something that turns out to be false. If the film had more confidence, it wouldn't need to resort to cheap maneuvers like that to grab our hearts as well as our heads. It's easy to remember what's good in The Assault, but it's also easy to see where it could have been much better.