Julien Leclercq’s limp retelling of the 1994 hostage crisis aboard Air France’s Flight 8969 celebrates military might over the individual stories of those involved.
I wondered, as I watched Julien Leclercq’s The Assault unfold, what was the director’s point. Once again Muslim extremists are at the heart of this terrorist atrocity, which depicts the real life events of the 1994 hijacking of the Air France Flight 8969. Like American films such as United 93, that rekindled the heartbreaking tragedy of 9/11, I’m left pondering what is to gain from reconstructing such devastating acts for film audiences. United 93 may have celebrated the bravery exhibited by those on board a hijacked plane, something that should be remembered, but is a Hollywood film, the commercial dream factory and moneymaking giant, the medium for it. Likewise, The Assault, despite its supposedly realistic retelling of the events of 1994, has an air of pointlessness about it. In many respects, with the widespread television coverage of the time (apparently 21 million people tuned in to watch the GIGN’s assault on the plane) and its chief villain continuing to command global airtime, the film is preaching to the converted. There is an inevitability to proceedings that is truly saddening.
What’s more is Leclercq’s distillation of the story, as presumably retold by survivors, the French security forces, and the GIGN operatives themselves, becomes an us versus them stand off. Indeed, the tragedy involved those who were actively assassinating innocent people with aspirations for further destruction, as well as those brave armed guards who stormed the plane in order to protect the innocent lives on board. However, such a recreation should delve more deeply into the underlying factors that sent four men on a suicide mission, rather than a face off between pitiful monsters and courageous security staff and their wholesome family values. At the end of the film, I knew nothing about the event than couldn’t be garnered from news feeds, documentaries and literature previously put into the public domain.
Admittedly, Leclercq’s visual prowess, with his kinetic documentary realism, should be applauded. There is a claustrophobic energy, particularly during the GIGN’s storming of the plane that belies the overly well-oiled set pieces so often witnessed in Hollywood’s celebration of military might. However, with the scenes involving Vincent Elbaz’s Thierry, a GIGN operative, spending time with his wife and daughter, training, advising younger members of the team and retelling the stories of previous operations, Leclercq’s film has a distinct focus and it isn’t the terrorists.
The Assault features some technically proficient battle sequences but it loses its effectiveness, and the audience’s interest, in muddied ideals. When the film targets character drama Leclercq isn’t as confident, the scenes feeling more like soap-opera with stilted dialogue and bland performances. The culmination of which feels disconcertingly familiar. We literally have seen this before and Leclercq’s retread makes it neither interesting nor thought-provoking to go through it again.
Directed by: Julien Leclercq
Written by: Simon Moutairou, Julien Leclercq
Starring: Vincent Elbaz, Aymen Saïdi, Mélanie Bernier
Released: 2010 / Genre: Drama / Country: France / IMDB