In 1994 an France airbus was hijacked by a terrorist cell with the presumed intension of downing it in Paris, fortunately lack of fuel meant that the flight had to be grounded at Marseille at which point extreme action was taken by the French government and a special forces team were sent in to resolve the situation.
It may sound like the plot to a film (and now, indeed, is) but these extraordinary events are not only true, but originally played out on live news broadcasts for the entire world to see.
It’s quite surprising then that it has taken this long for a feature film to chronicle these events, but after viewing, relatively understandable. The Assault, from the outset, struggles to find a path that differentiates it from the oodles of fictionalised and none-fictionalised hijack films that have preceded it. Sure, in real life the events were a heartbreaking and intense affair, but in the film world such events are usually little more than a plot device that a bigger sets of circumstances hang on.
So The Assault opts to follow the lead up to that titular assault on the aircraft from three different perspectives, a single member of the special forces group, a government official trying to bargain with the mastermind of the situation, and, of course, the hijackers themselves… But here’s where the grounding of the film becomes duplicitous.
The none-sensationalising of these three character strands is like a breathe of fresh air, adding true credibility to the ‘based on true events’ line that we all now take with a grain of salt. On the flip side, the few glimpses into their home lives that we get are, if not relatively two-dimensional, then certainly very, very normal, providing little in the way of drama and leaving the fate of the film to hang on the storming of the plane, which, as it turns out, is grounded and un-sensational too. Yes, we get a glimpse of how these situations are really dealt with, which may be the intension, as the film weaves in and out of original news footage of the day, but we’re never on the edge of our seats.
One would have thought that with this level of narrative realism, director, Julien Leclercq, would perhaps have shot documentary style, in the vain of Paul Greengrass’s excellent United 93, but in actual fact it is beautifully shot, leaning towards a cool pallet with rich, deep darks, making The Assault more filmic in appearance than even Greengrass’s more commercial output such as the Bourne sequels.
The Assault is certainly a well-shot and well-written film, as far as that goes, but its credibility only partially makes up for the relative lack of tension and action. These real events and people have been rendered near cliché by an unforgiving film industry, so perhaps an in-depth documentary similar to the brilliant Bus 174 would have served them better.
C grade – for storytelling
C grade – for action
B grade – for acting
B grade – for visuals
Overall grade – C+
The Assault is released on region 2 Blu-ray and DVD on August 6th, 2012, from.