TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 November 2013
This is an interesting, although partially flawed, French film about a tragic terrorist attack and a spectacularly succesful anti-terrorist operation. Below, more of my impressions, with some limited SPOILERS.
1. The real story.
On 24 December 1994, at Houari Boumedienne Airport of Algiers in Algeria, four armed men dressed and acting as Algerian presidential police boarded Air France Flight 8969 bound to depart for Orly Airport of Paris, France. Moments after they dropped the act and took the control of the plane, revealing that they were not police, but "mujahideen" of Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), the most radical of Muslim extremists guerillas waging in those times jihad against Algerian regime in order to establish an "islamic state" in Algeria.
The leader of hijackers, Abdul Abdullah Yahia, initially requested that inprisoned Algerian islamist leaders, Abassi Madani and Ali Belhadj, are released. When that was rejected, he requested that the plane is allowed to take off and fly to Paris. When Algerian authorities refused, the terrorists murdered successively three passengers: an Algerian policeman, a Vietnamese diplomat and finally a young French man, Yannick Beugnet, who worked as cook for the French embassy in Algiers. After this third murder, acting on request of French authorities, Algerian government agreed to let the plane take off - but with only enough fuel to make it to Marseille...
Once arrived to Marseille, the hijackers asked for the re-fueling in order to continue towards Paris - but after long negotiations what they got instead was the attack by French elite anti-terrorist unit, the Groupement d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN). French government in the meantime correctly guessed that if the hijackers insisted so much on flying to Paris, it was in order to crash the plane on the city, most probably on some particularly prestigious target...
The attack by GIGN was a great success. All terrorists were killed. Nine GIGN commandos were wounded (two of them very badly) as were thirteen hostages (one seriously) - but all wounded commandos and civilians eventually recovered. The GIA didn't try anymore hijackings of French planes - instead, it launched in 1995 a campaign of bombing terrorist attacks in Paris, which lasted until the capture or death of all terrorists involved in them.
2. The film.
First, let's stress that this is a French film, so it suffers from some peculiarities typical in modern French cinema: it is veeery sloooooow, everybody seems terminally depressed, there is no humour, people always speak in the same monotonous way no matter what just happens on the screen, nobody seems to really believe in what he/she is doing, etc, etc.
Also, the director decided to use a technical trick - the colours are toned down on purpose. It is not exactly a black and white film, but most of it is kind of... greyish. It is certainly artistically interesting, and with time it is possible to get used to it, but initially it is really annoying.
But the worst and completely unnecessary thing is the character of Carole Jeanton, a staff member of one of the ministries involved in the management of this crisis, who somehow is the only one to know what is happening and must of course struggle with all her completely incompetent superiors to convince them that the terrorists want actually to crash their plane on Paris. As far as I know the real story, such a character never existed and the security specialists in charge of the file, beginning with the Minister of Interior Charles Pasqua himself, did a PERFECT JOB during this crisis - so why the heck change the story and take a dump on them!? "All people in charge are incompetent so the little guy/gal who knows everything must force them to do what he/she knows to be the right thing" - this is such a STUPID and unnecessary cliché!
Some things about planning the assault and also some details of the real attack clearly COULDN'T be divulged to the public and I totally understand that, but what I really would like to see in this kind of film is at least one meeting of the crisis management team and also how the different cogs and wheels in state machinery start moving once a really bad crisis begins - but you will not see it here. Instead you will have Carole Jeanton knowing everything from the beginning and then instructing her obviously soooo stoooopid bosses about what must be done - and that is it.
On another hand all the scenes on board of the hijacked plane are EXCELLENT! That aspect of the film is a great success. The final assault is very well filmed, extremely dramatic and seems very realistic. Actors were all unknown to me, but they did a good job, especially those who played the terrorists and Thierry Prungnaud, the leader and point-man of the first assault team.
Bottom line, this is a honest watch, which could have been much better, worth seeing for many reasons not the least of which is the heartening message - if only the good guys make a honest effort, the evil people are certain to be defeated. And that is an encouraging thought...