Tribeca: “L’Assaut” – a grim, breathless action movie about a real terror attack

This entry was posted on 22.04.2011

L'AssautChristmas 1994: 4 Algerian extremists, members of the terror group GIA, hijack an Air France plane on its way from Algier to Paris. This attack has a similar meaning to France as the hijacking of the “Landshut”, the Lufthansa plane, in 1977 for Germany. It could have turned into an attack not unlike 9/11 seven years before 9/11, but because of the happy-ending of the hijacking, the story is perfect for a thriller: “L’assaut”, Julien Leclerq’s second full-length feature, which is shown at the Tribeca Film Festival this year.

On first impression, you might think that “L’assaut” might stir some controversy. Just before the four terrorists enter the French plane, they pray. Will this movie be another attempt to portray Muslims as terrorists? Once you see the passengers, you know that Leclerq’s movie is not that simple. Almost all of the passengers are Algerians, Muslims. The GIA, an extreme islamic group, obviously doesn’t care about people who share their religion, as long as they don’t follow their extreme view of the religion.

Leclerq tells the story from three different angles: The four terrorists desperately try to get the plane into the air (the stairs are still attached). They release the children and some of the women to appease the Algerians, but they also kill an Algerian government employee, a Vietnamese businessman and the employee of the French embassy.

The French government wants the plane to lift off too – the Algerian government won’t allow the French SWAT team to liberate the plane on their soil. Claire (Mélanie Bernier), an inspiring worker at the Ministry of the Exterior, is the focal point here. She even voluntarily agrees to meet up with who she is believes is the head of the terrorist attack, believing that the Algerian government is the target, not the French.

But the hero of “L’assaut” is Thierry (Vincent Elbaz), a member of the SWAT team. Thierry’s motivation isn’t entirely clear: His job clearly puts him under a lot of pressure, he has a young daughter and a wife that wants him to quit. But at the same time he demands to be the frontrunner once the team enters the plane, knowing that this might be suicidal.

“L’assaut” is a grim, breathless movie – filmed with a shaky hand camera and with only a little bit of color (and the little which is left seems to disappear while the story unfolds). But while Julien Leclerq directed a tense thriller, he leaves a lot of loose ends behind. For example: Hints in the beginning that a female terrorist is involved get forgotten throughout the movie.

The movie also lacks balance: Leclerq only manages to give Thierry a balance. One of the terrorists mentions that his three comrades have wives, children (he himself is still looking, potentially even in the plane). While we hear about Thierry’s wife, her fears and emotion, the terrorist’s wives are nowhere in sight. How do they feel about a mission that is most definitely suicidal? Only the parents of the head of the operation are shown once for a minute.

Leclerq opted for density over complexity. And while “L’assaut” is a thriller that is superior to most Hollywood movies of this genre, it doesn’t fully satisfy.

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