Based on a true story. In 1994, 20 million people watched the hijacking play out in real time over the Christmas holiday.An action packed thriller, "The Assault” is the gripping true story of the hijacking of a Paris-bound flight on Christmas Eve 1994, and the 48-hour effort to rescue the passengers.When four heavily armed Islamic terrorists hijack a Paris-bound Air France flight on the runway, 227 innocent lives hang in the balance. Their only chance of rescue is the determined French GIGN's (the elite counter-terrorism paramilitary unit of the French National Gendarmerie), called on to break the standoff and storm the plane."The Assault” is a harrowing tale that captures the claustrophobic tension on board, and in strategy sessions with the government and the GIGN, until 48 hours later it reaches its final outcome, played out during an intense battle onboard the narrow confines of an aircraft.Based on events which unfurled over three days in December ‘94, the film follows in merciless detail how four members of the GIA (Armed Islamic Group) infiltrated an Air France jetliner on the ground in Algiers, holding over 200 persons hostage before forcing the plane to take off and then land at an airport in the Marseilles suburb of Marignane. There, a French special forces unit (the GIGN) engaged in a Wild West-style assault on the aircraft, killing the captors and liberating the passengers and crew.What makes l’assaut de Marignane a rather unique case is not only the success of the mission, but the fact that it was captured live on television, with 20 million Frenchies standing by as bullets and bombs flew out the airliner’s cabin doors. The video, which can still be seen on YouTube, is a disturbing and fascinating historical artifact. Leclercq incorporates the footage into the final showdown, cutting between the TV camera exteriors and his own frenzied recreations of what went down inside.
Following the lead of Paul Greengrass’ United 93, the script (co-written with Simon Moutairou) eschews almost all political commentary and gets right down to business, opening with a prologue showing GIGN officer Thierry (Vincent Elbaz) shaken up after a bloody domestic shooting. His wife (Marie Guillard) has a hard time stomaching her husband’s hazardous career choice, and this sets up a rather unconvincing emotional backdrop for Thierry’s next mission: to take down the hijackers before all hell breaks lose.Which it certainly does. As Leclercq already showcased in his 2007 sci-fi thriller, Chrysalis, he has a knack for capturing close quarter firefights, which are on ample display once the French forces storm the plane. Until then, the story maintains a workable level of tension as it crosscuts between the GIGN’s training preparations, the GIA’s executions of three passengers and a French foreign affairs officer (Melanie Bernier) who goes through kilometers of bureaucratic red tape to try to save the day.While the French forces, led by the swarthy Denis Favier (Gregori Derangere), often look and act like they’re starring in an army recruitment spot, the terrorists are given more personality. As was the case in United 93, they’re depicted as being fanatically insecure, and clearly unprepared to handle such a mission. The terrific actor Aymen Saidi (Top Floor, Left Wing) gives their leader, Yahia, a sadly fatalistic side that emerges alongside his cold-blooded killings.Using tons of handheld camerawork by Thierry Pouget (Eden Log) and a color palette that’s desaturated to the point of verging on black-and-white, Leclercq seems to be taking stylistic cues from both Greengrass and Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down. Yet without any underlying theme beyond the celebration of France’s military acumen, he resorts to slow motion and gushy music to add a sentimental hook to this impressive – but depthless – exercise in action bravado.
The Assault works hard at finding its human factor, the thread linking the cold-blooded facts of the 1994 hijacking by Muslim extremists of Air France Flight 8969 and the people on the plane. The film's characters, especially the GIGN (think American SWAT team) task force leader, Theirry (Vincent Elbaz), who leads the charge at the end, never feel larger than life.Technically, the film is untouchable; Leclercq, in his sophomore feature effort, has proven himself again, and if this were just another action thriller about fictional events there would be nothing to say, save for "good job." But The Assault raises many more questions than it answers, and its overall objective is puzzling and remains shrouded in political agenda.The quandary is this: The events of the Flight 8969 hijacking in Algiers have already been seen on live television by close to 21 million people, as the actual taking of the plane and footage of the assault were broadcast live from the tarmac as it happened (Leclercq actually weaves most, if not all, of this original footage into the final minutes of the film). What's gained by reliving these painful moments in history? Especially when nothing enlightening seems to be added to the conversation about terrorism, and no new ground seems to be broken on the subject of the '94 atrocity which saw the death of quite a few civilians, police, and terrorists alike. Instead of looking forward to promoting peace and understanding in these times of continued tension between Islam and the Western world, The Assault creates a good-guy/bad-guy cowboy story that seems to provoke division instead of work toward unification. This movie incites hatred if nothing else. Movie In HD
It's in this way that the film feels moderately regressive; there is, of course, a patent and dire condemnation of religious extremism, but then there's also a glorifying depiction of another type of fanatical belief, the overzealousness of national pride in one's country on the part of the French. The portrayal of the Muslim terrorists is frightening and intense (the effort from Aymen Saidi as the terrorist leader is so filled with anger that it's painfully good), despite conveying a sense of insanity that seems circumspect, and the Algerian government is painted as dumbly trying to endanger French citizens as long as they possibly can, with only the French seeming to come out in a good light, when the assault on the plane saves the day.Whether or not these events were as black and white as the movie portends is irrelevant; no effort is made to show both sides of the story. Repeated shots of the Islamic extremists praying on the plane while having to shoot innocent civilians seems to say, "Islam is bad." And in light of the very recent French ban on Islamic practices, it's hard to look past the blatant anger and dislike apparent in the screenplay by Simon Moutairou. Suffice it to say, the political motivation of the movie swells with a sort of anger-inciting, hatred-instilling, and anti-Islamic sentiment that overpowers the film, and leaves the true-to-life narrative of a plane full of people on the verge of death, the important part of this narrative, and a government's struggle to save them while minimizing casualty and not giving in to terror, to dwindle in the shadow of political muscle-flexing.
That said, one can't deny the power of this film as a story about real human beings and their struggle to survive. There's a fine line between making people interesting and dramatic enough for the big screen and sticking to their real-life personas when directing a dramatization, and Leclercq walks it well. He's careful not to embellish too much, and he sticks to the script as it were, letting the straightforward approach of the events speak for themselves. The Air France hijacking was terrifying in its own right, but compared to the silver screen (for example, see Executive Decision, made just two years later in '96), and what we're used to seeing in action films these days as an audience, The Assault is pretty drab.The tactical move on the plane held hostage at Marseilles takes place in broad daylight, live on television no less, utilizing sheer brute force, with no special operatives in night-vision goggles or secret government technology. There's a certain narrative power to this approach, as the simple and true unfolding of events carries more weight than any amount of shoring up with special effects or spy-movie conventions. The rest of the movie builds toward this moment and it's a bit of a letdown, but in a sobering and pleasant way. The GIGN forces carry old-fashioned six-shooter pistols, and the attack doesn't work as well as had been hoped, reminding us that these types of operations are rarely pretty and not done with the finesse Hollywood would have us believe.
On-screen text at the end of the film fills us in on the lives of the people involved and how they got on afterward. Toward the end of this bit, it's revealed that French police were able to effectively "save" the Eiffel Tower by stopping the extremist group from flying Flight 8969 into it despite this intention only ever being a hypothetical motivation for holding the plane hostage in the first place. Ultimately, the claim may seem to a New Yorker watching the film like a reminder that our government wasn't able to save the Twin Towers, and it leaves a somewhat bitter taste. It's hard to say what the filmmakers' intention is here, and it was strange to see the words appear, but what's clear is that The Assault further solidifies the reasons first put forward by the release of United 93, why dramatizations of true events that we've already witnessed firsthand once, where real people were brutally murdered, shouldn't be misconstrued by the movie-watching public as entertainment, and should be left alone to be memorialized in public sculpture and not exploited for monetary gain.