Monday, December 12, 2022

The Ambush, from the UAE

It sure was a surprise when we discovered China was building a secret military base in the UAE. They were supposed to be our friends in the Middle East. After all, who do you think sold them all the hardware we see in this movie? Nevertheless, UAE’s reasons for joining the Saudi 2015 military intervention in Yemen were largely aligned with our own interests: countering the rise of al-Qaeda, Daesh, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Unfortunately, one of those terrorist groups (the film never specifies which) was waiting for an Emirati patrol in Pierre Morel’s The Ambush, releasing tomorrow on DVD.

Plenty of American military personnel could probably empathize with the situation the Emirati soldiers found themselves in. It is a two-stage ambush, designed to first incapacitate the two-armored vehicle patrol, but its ultimate target is the multi-vehicle rapid response unit that comes to rescue them. Unfortunately, strategic use of land mines and RPGs leave the combined Emirati forces boxed in, where they must take mortar fire, while a sniper keeps them pinned inside their vehicles.

Morel previously helmed
Taken and District B13, so he obviously understands how to handle large-scale action sequences. The problem is the script by Brandon and Kurtis Birtell is absolutely colorless. According to press notes, it was written in close-consultation with the survivors of the incident the film is based on. That might be nice for authenticity’s sake, but not for the drama. Typically, in war films like this, each soldier gets their own individual quirks and background details to help distinguish them and allow diverse audience members to identify with them. In this case, everybody’s thing is having a concerned family waiting for them back in UAE, which makes it hard to differentiate anyone, especially when artillery starts exploding around them.

However, Morel depicts the step-by-step escalation of the ambush with crisp precision. If you do not mind sacrificing things like characterization and dialogue,
The Ambush is a very impressively produced war movie. I would want to re-watch it before setting off on a desert patrol in a war-torn Gulf state. The tactics and hardware are completely realistic, but the dialogue much less so. Seriously, nobody in the UAE military curses?

At least the men look legit. Ghanim Nasser is appropriately creepy, in an Eric Hofferesque true believer kind of way, as the terrorist leader. Mansoor Al-Fili is also reassuringly steely Col. Jamal Al-Khatri, who watches the action unfold back at the war-room. Notably, he has a female officer running a comms desk there, as well as a woman Apache pilot, which is definitely progressive for the Middle East, but no women in direct combat duty.

is well made, but the screenplay plays it far too safe. It is clear every aspect of this film was conceived with the approval of Emirati authorities in mind. The film was a big hit in the UAE, but they did not submit it for International Oscar consideration. The desert warfare sequences are interesting (perhaps even instructive), but the drama is too predictable. Not recommended as dramatic cinema for regular viewers (but Middle East analysts should definitely check it out), The Ambush releases tomorrow (12/13) on DVD and BluRay.