When the unthinkable actually happens, who do you call? France’s answer to this question is the National Gendarmerie Intervention Group, or the GIGN, a badass, special op unit of the French Armed Forces that deals with counter-terrorism and hostage rescue. This heroic group is at the center of Julien Leclercq’s new French thriller, The Assault, which depicts the events of the December 24, 1994 hijacking of an Air France flight by the Armed Islamic Group, or the GIA.
When four armed terrorists take over Flight 8969 as the plane sits in Algiers shortly after boarding, over 200 passengers are put at the mercy of the vehement hijackers. The terrorists want to takeoff, but the airstairs are still parked next to the plane. That’s one complication for the terrorists. Another is they want to go to Paris, but they have to land in Marseilles to refuel. In Marseilles the GIGN trains on an empty A300 to storm the plane and save as many passengers as possible. Their orders sound hauntingly simple: if someone is injured, even if it’s your partner, keep moving forward. This emotional cyclone of a movie is intense and unrelenting, stirring up anger, fear and uncertainty. When terrorist Yahia (Aymen Saïdi) screams at the crew, makes demands of the French Interior Ministry and threatens to kill passengers, it easily evokes the audience’s hatred. Give it time, though; the courageous effort of GIGN soldier Thierry (Vincent Elbaz) to save the victims on the plane elicits sympathy, respect and hope. He has a wife and small child at home waiting for him. He wants to go on the plane first.
The Assault, directed by Julien Leclercq opens in theaters April 6.