"The Assault" takes place in the early '90s, with tensions bubbling between Muslim extremists and, we're to gather, the happy home lives of France's SWAT-like emergency specialists. We really only get to know Thierry, a distracted father and husband who still hasn't found the way to his daughter's heart; it's suggested this may be due to his complex profession. He's a member of the GIGN, who are mobilized soon after the film's opening dream set-piece, a flight from Algiers taken over by violent Muslim separatists while sitting on the tarmac. We watch time tick away as innocents shrink from the bullying demands of the deeply religious "villains," setting the stage for a hostage rescue mission.
The rest of Leclerq's film, which treads the same "verite vs. action" ground as Paul Greengrass' earlier, knottier pictures, feels secondhand and almost television-bound, as if it was a dramatization waiting for an obvious context-clarifying voiceover. There would have been political value, and even black comedy in staging the diplomatic backroom dealings as the majority of the film, with the badass gunmen heroes simply waiting in a room like caged elephants ready to fight. Instead, "The Assault" needlessly provokes with the convincingly intense sequences inside the plane, with the terrorists immobilizing innocents, taking a gun to the head of anyone who opposes them.
At this point, what is there to gain from fracturing the narrative to show this side? Leclerq wants to make a "just the facts, ma'am" docudrama about a savage act of terrorism, but to be apolitical is to be completely political in the worst way possible. You can't simply come out against extremism when the political purposes behind it are obscured. If we were granted a look into the French government's war room, why not the terrorists' equivalent? "The Assault", which derives its title from the tense final action sequence where our soldiers finally get in the game, misinterprets post-Greengrass shaky-cam action as a levelling of the idealist playing field, a chance to allow all opinions to find simultaneous voice in the rush of onscreen action, when in fact it's about the chance to allow and crave the order and humanity out of the chaos of widespread violence. There may be plenty of propulsive action in "The Assault," but there is little humanity. [C]