Directed by Julien Leclercq, The Assault (otherwise known as L’assaut) tells the harrowing true story of the hijacking of an Air France plane. Told from several different viewpoints the film tows the line between bleak reality and touching drama.
Shot mainly in monotonous grey hues, The Assault is a grim retelling of the atrocities that took place aboard an Air France plane during Christmas 1994. Hijacked by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) for political reasons, the plane was stranded in Algiers for several hours before being allowed to take off, its captors flying with the majority of the plane’s passengers to France.
Real coverage intervenes much of the film and it is these moments which are perhaps the most dramatic. Whilst the cast do their best with a stable script, it is the unscripted barbaric nature of the events the film follows that creates the most emotion. Vincent Elbaz stars as Thierry, an armed officer tasked with being one of the group to tackle the plane. While his familial story provides an emotional outlet for Leclerq’s film, it is surpassed by the fact that The Assault is based on true events.
Many will remember the news coverage surrounding the high-jacking and the film should be applauded for drawing focus on an event that has slipped the minds of many. The barbaric actions of the hijackers, though fictionalised, are truly horrifying and have an impacting resonance in our post 9/11 world. Though the washed-out colour of the film reinforces the bleakness of its subject matter it sometimes feels over-powering. The hijackers themselves sometimes fail to capture the menace required with such roles, the lead attacker often looking confused rather than in control.
Whilst it incorporates shots that ring with clarity and effectiveness, it also tries to squeeze in too many sub-themes into its short run time. Whilst the GIA members shoot hostages we see a young woman trying to make her way (rather haphazardly) in the French political system; while Thierry fights, we see his wife mourn for the could-be loss of her husband. These juxtapositions help ground the story but also weaken its impact.
The Assault brings attention to a vivid landmark of recent history. Though its cause is admirable its execution is wrought with small detractors that draw focus away from the raw emotion provided in its real life footage.