I rented SPECIAL FORCES, which is American for FORCES SPECIALES, thinking it was an American DTV movie. It stars Djimon Hounsou (NEVER BACK DOWN). I thought after ELEPHANT WHITE he was just doing shit like this. It turns out to be a French movie from 2011, and therefore the second movie about French special forces that I’ve seen recently.
Diane Kruger plays a journalist in Afghanistan to interview a woman about how badly she’s been treated by the Taliban. But the Taliban doesn’t like this so they execute the woman, kidnap the journalist and bring her to Pakistan. The French send in a special forces team who rescue her, but the extraction plan doesn’t work out so most of the movie is them journeying on foot to try to get her safely across the border.
As I knew from the cover Hounsou (BIKER BOYZ) is one of the soldiers, but there’s this guy Lucas who kinda seems like the main character and as soon as I saw him I thought, “I know that guy. I like that guy. Who is that guy?” It turned out he was Denis Menochet and I know him from the same movie that made me care about Kruger, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, where he plays the farmer in the tense opening showdown with Hans Landa. When I saw him in that I thought, “This guy is great! Is he in anything else?” Hopefully something better than this, but it was exciting to see him again anyway, and he still has a strange sort of rigid, tired-eyed likability.
This one is way more steeped in bullshit than THE ASSAULT, but not enough to be a fun COMMANDO type experience. It pretends to be a realistic tale of modern warfare against Taliban fighters, but it doesn’t seem very believable in the tactical details and also has alot of the dumb movie cliches that don’t really mesh with that goal. It seemed ridiculous to me that this elite fighting force (and I know they’re elite because I’ve seen THE ASSAULT, and I’ve seen the “SPECIALES” in the title) would run into trouble and not have a Plan B. In fact, they actually ask each other what Plan B is and learn that there is not a Plan B.
Then, as they’re traveling to safety on foot they have run-ins with some of the tribes and stuff, and the journalist and a local contact keep explaining things to them about local customs and Taliban abuses. Why don’t they know that stuff already? Are the French special forces actually not that special? You’d think they’d learn all about this place and have alot of experience there.
But they obviously don’t, because the score keeps playing that one sound that they use that means “this is exotic and unfamiliar, this is like the Middle East or something.” You know that sound.
I mean, they really don’t seem to know what’s going on. At the end, when (spoiler) Hounsou says “See the mountain we just crossed? That’s the border. Welcome to Afghanistan,” you have to wonder how the fuck this didn’t come up while they were crossing the mountain. In my opinion it takes a while to cross a mountain. Was he purposely keeping it a surprise that this was the border? Was he snickering to himself the whole time? He really fooled those guys.
I don’t think anybody ever says “We got company,” but it’s that type of movie. It does have the JAWS style confirmation of death: “[Name of character]?” “No.”
The villain, a Taliban guy, is pretty ridiculous. He just keeps chasing after this journalist because “It became personal to him. He has to save face.” He always scowls, casually executes random civilians, and yells at his minions about not letting her get away. He walks in slow motion, unphased by the battles around him. I don’t like that he seems like an evil mastermind, because the real people he’s supposed to represent are a scarier type of evil. Didn’t these filmatists see THE ASSAULT? Fundamentalists like this believe 100% that they are the good guys. I think this character should either be more true to life or he should go Gary Oldman and let us have some fun watching him. When it’s in between like this it just seems like a lie.
Of course the real Taliban are assholes, responsible for many atrocities, fucked up beliefs and human rights violations. I’m more concerned that they’re weak action movie villains than that it’s a defamatory portrayal. But I do feel very slightly uncomfortable with how obvious the movie is about trying to preach to us and work us up. On one hand I like that they’re passionate about drawing attention to the mistreatment of women by the Taliban, on the other hand I think about France not letting their own citizens follow their Muslim customs, and I think maybe they’re not just talking about the Taliban. At any rate I think it’s interesting to see how another western culture handles it a little differently from us.
I would guess it probly was a theatrical release in France, because it does seem like the production values and cast are pretty decent. But there’s one awkward part where the helicopter that’s supposed to pick them up crashes, but they don’t show it and then we just are told that it crashed. I don’t know if they ran out of money or what. Maybe they should’ve had Steven Seagal’s DTV period voice double come on and do some narration about it.
I wouldn’t really recommend this one, but by the end I did get kinda wrapped up in what was going on. They lose some of their men and you really start to feel like none of them might get out of there. They end up injured and dehydrated and stumbling along in the snow. That’s another thing I liked – it could’ve never left the yellow tinted fake-Pakistan like we see in so many movies now. But they go into the mountains and they hit snow. A nice change of pace.
I think I’m a sucker for the dedication they have to saving this woman. They take turns carrying her on their backs, joking around with her, keeping her spirits up. And you can see how talking to her keeps them going too. It’s kinda sweet.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.