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Tribeca 2011 Review: THE ASSAULT

GATW Guest Writer

by: GATW Guest Writer
May 3rd, 2011

Rating: 2.5/5

Writers: Julien Leclercq and Simon Moutairou, Roland Môntins and Gilles Cauture (book)
Director: Julien Leclercq
Cast: Vincent Elbaz, Grégori Derangère, Mélanie Bernier, Philippe Bas

It’s fitting that in the tenth year of the Tribeca Film Festival, whose inaugural year took place just six months before the World Trade Center attack, the powers that be have decided to program a film about terrorism to commemorate the tragic events that unfolded on September 11th, 2001. That connection and the fact that Julien Leclercq’s THE ASSAULT is an engaging thriller justifies the film’s inclusion in this year's slate.

After Osama Bin Laden led a "jihad" against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the early ‘90s, Islamic radicals moved into France to recruit amongst the millions of people from Arab origin found in the most impoverished areas of the country. Out of this came numerous terror factions, the most notable being the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). Their mission was to create an underground army willing to attack France for its support of the Algerian government who had been suppressing a growing Islamic political presence for years. This all culminated on Christmas Eve in 1994 when Air France flight 8969 was hijacked at Algiers. Millions watched live as the events unfolded. THE ASSAULT follows these events, bouncing back and forth between the events on-board and the efforts on the ground to quell the uprising.

The initial hijacking is executed well by Julien Leclercq, who directs the action sure-handedly and the events never become too erratic or too confusing to follow. The problem is that the flick is front-loaded, with the best sequence happening early, and the film never fully recovers from the loss of momentum until the GIGN - a French force most akin to SWAT - storm the plane.

Vincent Elbaz plays a GIGN officer named Thierry, and the preparation to take out the terrorists is seen through his perspective. Although his performance is fine, it’s a bit paint-by-numbers, giving further proof that the bland cop role is always a difficult one to flesh out properly. He is a much-needed face on the armor clad animosity of the GIGN, however, which makes it even easier to root for them once the last twenty minutes of the film are unleashed.

Simon Moutairou’s (written with Leclercq) screenplay is fast-paced and tight in some places, but ultimately ends up trying to cram too many perspectives into a fairly straight-forward story. The kind of character development he wants to delve into would be better suited for a miniseries or cable TV show. Moutairou does seem to be the one who is most concerned with making an attempt to raise the bar, since Leclercq’s direction is fairly predictable and the cinematography by Thierry Pouget works from a pretty bland palette throughout the film.

THE ASSAULT admittedly feels less relevant to American audiences than it probably would for French moviegoers, who are living in a country that is still going through growing pains and constant conflict brought on by Arab and Mulsim populations that still feel unwelcome in the country. We have already seen our greatest terrorist attack translated to film in various incarnations, and although THE ASSAULT is a tense thriller, it ultimately doesn’t add anything new to elevate it beyond what we’ve seen on cable TV and on the big screen.

It is interesting to note that the current political climate seems to be creating a new kind of terrorist subgenre within the thriller category - one that puts our fears of real life events up on screen, but it’s unclear if that’s creating any kind of catharsis or leaving us with any films that will truly stand the test of time.

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