Dir.Stéphane Rybojad, France, 2011, 109 mins, in French with English subtitles
Cast: Diane Kruger, Djimon Hounsou, Benoît Magimel
Review by Ruth Sullivan
Special Forces is a film with a slight identity crisis: it begins as a bombastic, all guns blazing action flick, replete with Apocalypse Now helicopters and rock soundtrack, and ends up being an intimate, subtly acted piece on war and humanity.
The film centres on a group of elite French Special Forces operatives, led by the stoic Kovax (Hounsou). Their mission is to covertly enter the tribal region of Pakistan and rescue kidnapped journalist Elsa (Kruger) from the clutches of Taliban warlord Ahmed Zaife (Raz Dagan). Things fail to go to plan and the group find themselves struggling to survive the extremes of the Hindu Kush with civilians in tow and a hoard of Taliban fighters in pursuit.
As the action moves to Central Asia, the film deftly deals with the potentially problematic themes of kidnappings, political and religious violence and maintaining humanity in the midst of a warzone and, unlike many movies we’ve seen with similar storylines, chooses to steer away from moralising on anyone’s part. Refreshingly, it avoids the goodies vs baddies stance with a reined in performance by Dagan, who never allows the character of Zaife to descend into the pantomime caricature terrorist we are now so used to seeing. Similarly, the banter and affection between the Special Forces squad equally avoids stereotypically macho performances and is genuinely engaging and touching. Authenticity is lent by the intensive training the actors did alongside real Special Forces operatives. Whilst this is a true ensemble piece, Raphaël Personnaz as Elias is an especially standout performance. His character is a knowing nod to Platoon and to the pity and futility of war. His sparse moments of dialogue are probably the most affecting of whole film. However, Elsa’s story is never particularly well established. It’s not entirely clear why she’s there and it’s hard to really grasp why she’s so vital to the French government. Diane Kruger manages to make her very likeable, however, and does a decent job with a flimsy character.
To Rybojad’s credit, he avoids drooling over any acts of violence or trauma. In fact, what he manages to place squarely at the centre of the film is the people who have to continue their lives in the shadow of conflict – the commandos trying to maintain family lives at home, journalists trying to digest what they’ve been exposed to and the people of the villages, farms and tribal lands trying to balance their values and way of life with the extraordinary threats all around them. The filmmakers clearly fell in love with the people and the raw beauty of the remote but breathtaking locations, reflected in the affection on display in the scenes in mountain villages and the stunning scenic visuals.
Special Forces might not quite be the perfect war film but it manages to make a lasting impression and place itself amongst the more interesting takes on this genre.
Special Forces is released on DVD/Blu-Ray 12th March 2012.
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DVD Tech specs: Cert: 15 / Feature Running Time: 104 min approx / Region 2 / Feature Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 / Colour PAL / Audio: Dolby 5.1 / French language with English Subtitles / Cat No: OPTD2315 / RRP: £15.99
BLURAY Tech specs: Cert: 15 / Feature Running Time: 112 min approx / Region B / Feature Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 / Colour PAL / Audio: DTS Master Audio / French language with English Subtitles / Cat No: OPTBD2315 / RRP: £19.99