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15 Minutes of War (L'Intervention)
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by Jay Seaver

"Does the thing where special-forces people are good at their job well."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2019 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: From the subtitles, the English title for this film is "15 Minutes of War", which naturally leads to the question of what's going to happen for the other 80. The answer is a lot of simple competence, making for a very French take on the sort of military action film that, in American hands, often seems to be more likely to overflow with testosterone even when trying to be modest and self-deprecating. The differences are sometimes subtle and the end result is about the same, but it's still a good result.

It takes place in 1976; at the time, Djibouti was France's last colony, not necessarily a status that the people there and in neighboring nations were too fond of. In February, three terrorists - Barkhard (Kevin Layne), Morad (Andre Pierre), and Ilyans (Adbeladim Mazouzi) - hijack a bus containing 31 students and teacher Jane Andersen (Olga Kurylenko) and drive it to the Somali border. They wind up in a no-man's-land between the two, and while France dispatches a team of elite soldiers led by André Gerval (Alban Lenoir), the terrain is built for a stalemate and a move in the wrong direction could cause an even bigger international incident.

If you know the genre, you know the drill, but it's pretty pleasant, at least as military action movies go. This film is procedural, spending a fair amount of time on working out tactics, with the GIGN unit arguing with other groups on the scene and command back home in Paris, just in a somewhat less shouty manner. Meanwhile, having a teacher in the middle of the hostage situation gives the filmmakers plenty of chances to check in and make sure that the audience knows what the stakes are, and Olga Kurylenko slides into that role nicely, catching the way a character taking a job in this place necessarily has an adventurous side without being fearless and playing off everybody from the child actors to Kevin Layne's domineering mission leader well. Alban Lenoir, Michaël Abiteboul, Ben Cura, and that crew know the level of mission-focused confidence that stops short of cruelty that one wants the soldiers to show.

That the film is more about problem-solving rather than a cat and mouse game means that, for as effective as Layne and the other actors playing the hijackers may be, the film is going to be necessarily one-sided. Filmmaker Fred Grivois and his collaborators on the script don't do much to illuminate what is going on with the hostage-takers, for better or worse; there's no need to make them sympathetic, but it wouldn't be unusual to dig a little deeper into what the issues around the situation are. That this is ultimately going to be a bunch of European soldiers aiming to kill black people in Africa, doesn't mean that there needs to be a lot of moral ambiguity here, but stepping back far enough to put Barkhad in a bit more context wouldn't hurt.

The action is plenty strong, though, even with the characters laying out what the plan is early on. It's concentrated in the last act (those fifteen minutes) and delivers a very satisfying combination of special-forces excellence and frightening chaos. The filmmakers know how to keep the adrenaline drip flowing, getting the audience caught up enough in what's going on that it's easy enough to dismiss that, yeah, the French seem to be scoring a bunch of head shots while the Somalis hit the ground near people's feet a lot.

It is this sort of movie, even after all, if it seems less gung-ho than this sort of celebration of special-forces capability usually is. It's what it says on the box without a lot else, enough to make one wonder why Grivois is dramatizing this particular event forty years later.

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=33314&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/05/20 10:57:11
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 17-Jun-2019

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