Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Special Forces: The French vs. the Taliban

Elsa Cassanova opposed the invasion of Afghanistan and wears keffiyehs.  She thought she would fit right in, but she is shocked to discover the Taliban systematically abuse local women.  As a result of her reporting on the horrors experienced by a woman sold into marriage-slavery to a prominent Taliban warlord, Cassanova is abducted and forced to make some rather ominous internet videos.  Without proper backup, an elite commando unit will mount a rescue attempt in Stéphane Rybojad’s Special Forces (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

It is a good thing Cassanova est tres jolie.  The prospect of her beheading has the French government freaked.  While the men under Commander Kovax command are not exactly thrilled with her byline, they will bring her home anyway.  It will not be easy though.  They will face Ahmed Zaief, an Islamist fanatic Cassanova dubbed “The Butcher of Kabul.”  You’d think he’s like that, but no, evidently not. 

Executing a mission planned on the fly, Kovax’s men liberate Cassanova from her immediate captors easily enough.  However, things get complicated with the extraction.  Cut off from their rendezvous points, the commandos have no choice but to head home on foot over the mountains, from Zaief’s Pakistani hideout to their base in Afghanistan, just like the gulag escapees in Peter Weir’s The Way Back.  However, Zaief and his men will pursue them (somewhat reluctantly) every step of the way.

While the French initially seem to have A-Team like success holding off the Taliban fighters, it should be kept in mind they have superior firepower, better morale, and higher ground all in their favor.  Nonetheless, their charmed luck soon runs out, with squad members dying off one by one.  Eventually, only the biggest stars are left to protect Cassanova.  That includes Djimon Hounsou as Kovax and Benoît Magimel as a Tic Tac, a flirty paratrooper who might just have a shot with the lefty journalist, if they both survive.

Hollywood should take note, Hounsou was an inspired casting decision.  Blessed with a truly commanding screen presence, he is completely credible in every action scene and lends the film dignified gravitas.  A Ryan Golsing or Reynolds just would not cut the Dijon mustard here.  While not as hardnosed, Magimel is sufficient as the sensitive commando.  Also perfectly cast, Diane Kruger nicely portrays Casanova’s resiliency in the face of harsh elements and harsher Islamists extremists.  It is hard to think of any other name actress working in film today who can similarly combine grit and beauty.

Well known in France for his military documentaries, Rybojad’s narrative is about as straight as gets, never throwing any sort of twist or turn the audience’s way.  Yet, to his considerable credit, her never whitewashes or excuses the brutality of the Taliban.  We see several instances of the terror they rain down on helpless villagers as well as the destruction left in their wake.  Again, this is an example of the sort of film Hollywood ought to be making, but refuses to.  Recommended for both action movies fans and Francophiles, Special Forces opens this Friday (10/12) in New York at the AMC Empire.