Taut, forceful, ritualistic, and all those other flattering adjectives applied to thrillers that actually thrill, this skyjacking docudrama showcases yet another genre (in addition to shock horror) the French are kicking our asses in. The Assault is so tense, it seems to pass in a single held breath—so quickly, in fact, that you don't register its narrative flimsiness until later on. Directed and co-written (with Simon Moutairou) by newcomer Julien Leclercq, the film echoes United 93 in its real-time account of a real-life airline tragedy in the making. This time, it's the Christmas Eve 1994 hijacking of a Paris-bound Air France flight from Algiers by a quartet of Islamic fundamentalists (and likely patsies). As broadcast on live television, the plan was thwarted by members of the GIGN, France's paramilitary police force, many of whom were injured before freeing the 200-plus passengers and killing the terrorists. The cops are the story's emotional pegs—The Assault is practically a GIGN-recruitment film—and though it generally humanizes them, it also wallows in an underrealized plotline involving Thierry (Vincent Elbaz), a haunted officer whose opening-scene fuckup does all the film's metaphorical and political heavy lifting. More convincing are cinematographer Thierry Pouget's mercilessly leached-out palette, Aymen Saïdi as the raving but rounded lead thug, and the impressive ease with which Leclercq switches between the airliner and government negotiations without sacrificing momentum. Better still, and to my mind a missed opportunity for a more memorable protagonist, are the bits in which Interior Ministry flunky Carole Jeanton (Mélanie Bernier) upstages and outsmarts her antagonistic superiors and damn near saves the day.
Get the Film Club Newsletter
Stay up to date on the best new movies with our critics' latest reviews, interviews and trailers for the films coming to a theater near you each week.