'The Assault' – DVD review

‘The Assault’ – DVD review (StudioCanal) Cert 15
Released 6th August 2012

Director Julien Leclercq, who made the accomplished low-budget 2007 sci-fi film Chrysalis, brings a recent piece of French history to vivid life in this intense andtightly edited documentary style drama. Using a colour palate that is almost washed out to black and white, with a constantly roving camera following the protagonists, Leclercq and cinematographer Thierry Pouget encapsulatethe grim reality of a hijack siege.

On December 24th, 1994, when four heavily armed terrorists from the GIA (Groupe Islamique Armé /Algerian Armed Islamic Group) hijacked an Air France plane, Flight 8969, bound for Paris at Algiers’ Houari Boumedieni airport. Initially it seemed thatthe 227 passengers on board seemed ordained for catastrophe. After the execution of a few hostages and hours of tireless negotiations the plane was finally granted permission to leave only to head to Marseille’s Marignane airport for refuelling. But what was the aircraft’s final destination and could it be allowed to reach it?

Avoiding cliché, overt sentimentality and emphasizing only the actual historical events, Leclercq skilfully weaves together the vicious and claustrophobic proceedings on the plane, seen from the perspective of three characters: the courageous but world weary GIGN officer (Groupe d’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale/ theelite counter-terrorism paramilitary unit of the French National Gendarmerie)and devoted father Thierry (Vincent Elbaz), the resolute jihadist from the poverty stricken slums of Algiers Yahia (Aymen Saidi), and a highly ambitious French Interior Ministry worker, Carole Jeanton (Melanie Bernier).

Obviously, The Assault culminates in the Marseillestandoff and the GIGA’sall-guns-blazing storming of Flight 8969, which in 1994 aired live in front of an audience of 21 million television viewers. Leclercq, in a similar style to Olivier Assayas’ masterful 2010 picture Carlos, flawlesslyinterweavesdisturbing real-life footage into his picture, heightening the audience’s emotional investment in the picture. The pulsing, driving score by Jean-Jacques Hertz and Francois Roy only intensifies the tension as the GIGA move into action.

Leclercq and Simon Moutairou’s script, based upon Roland Môntins and Jean-Michel Caradec’h’s book, is obviously very well researched but also manages to delineate very strong, well defined characters with enviable economy and precision. The result is an intelligent and emotionally powerful action film for people who do not normally enjoy action movies.

Though the outcome of the hijack is known, Leclercq skilfully keeps the pressure mounting until the final frame. Though the tremendous courage of Thierry (who insists that he is the first man through the cockpit door when they attack) and his GIGA team is clearly and justly lauded in The Assault, Yahia’s terrorists are also accorded a measure of respect ”“ a far cry from how they would be portrayed within a similar Hollywood feature film.

Although the only DVD extra is the original theatrical trailer, The Assault is definitely a disc worth purchasing.

The Assault (StudioCanal) DVD/ Blu-Ray Released 6th August” 2012


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