Who knew that of all countries France had their own flag waving recruitment commercial on steroids meets action adventure flick just like how the US has Act Of Valor? In fact it looks like the French even beat the US to the concept seeing as Special Forces opened in 2011 and its American counterpart opened in 2012. The film’s plot is incredibly simple, a world-renowned French female reporter gets kidnapped and taken to the mostly lawless northwest region of Pakistan by her notorious Taliban warlord captor (of Western origin?) where she is held and “intimidated.” Upon hearing of this news, the French Government orders (or did they?) a daring raid by six hardened top-notch special forces operators (see the title) made up of mainly Naval Commandos (Commandos Marine). The mission is successful up until the exfiltration when their helicopter is lost, all the while the men are holding off scores of Taliban in spectacular guns a blazing fashion. From here on out it is a story about survival, courage and sacrifice (don’t get too excited!) while being hunted by other human beings, all the while there is a solid sprinkling of the best the military hardware the French has to offer.
So what separates this movie apart from the thousands of other films based on a similar pretense? The cinematography would be one. The film is absolutely stunning to watch. In fact it is worth seeing just for the helicopter sequences alone, without a question, eye-popping and downright fantastic imagery is prevalent throughout the film. Also, it has a real focus on the special forces’ ethos and the heroism that goes along with it (notice that these two things are pretty much exactly what most people would also say stands out about the rickety yet visually stunning Act of Valor?). Then there is the cast, whereas Act of Valor featured real Navy SEALs in the lead roles, a choice that was great for the authenticity of the action sequences but absolutely catastrophic for character development and view-ability, Special Forces has a top-notch cast made of mostly well-known French actors. Diane Kruger plays the lead (National Treasure, Inglorious Bastards) opposite the imposing Djimon Housnou (Amistad, Blood Diamond) and visually interesting Denis Menochet (Robin Hood, Inglorious Bastards). Even with a respectable roster of proven players, it seems that the clunky script and second-rate direction left the cast with little material to latch onto and really make their own. Even the film’s marquee villain, played by Israeli born model and actor Raz Degan (Pret-a-porter, Alaxander) seemed watered down, yet somehow I find it hard once again to blame it on the actor’s performance. He was very intense at times but still seemed more like Dr. Evil than Dr. Mangala. Still, compared to the acting in Act of Valor, Special Forces screens like Oscar material. It’s not good at all, but it is not terribly awful either considering the material being exhibited.
Getting back to the script, it is incredibly preachy, to the point that you almost laugh out loud during what are supposed to be key emotional sequences. There are no subtle messages here, everything is literally spoken and emphasized to the viewers dismay. Oddly, so many smaller elements of the film seem out of pace or unexplained. It is strange that the director made such a point to make so many points in such a clumsy fashion yet at the same time they forgot to fill in so many gaping continuity and background holes that would have really elevated the movies overall quality and watchability. Simply put, the continuity in the story line is amateurish in nature. Whether the film’s half executed character development and storyline flow was due to over zealous editing or just poor writing I have no clue, it just seems very mindless to the point that it is actually confusing. Some of the dialogue is just so stupid it was actually embarrassing to watch the cast of proven actors attempt to put some soul into their lines. There are even some strange and recurring “warrior screams” that seem to be incredibly Klingon as opposed to top tier special operator in nature (you will know what I mean once you watch it).
Finally there is the realism of the action. At times the movie seems pretty accurate, but most the time it seems bewildering inaccurate. The weird thing is I really don’t know why they did not attempt to better emulate real tactics and proven battle methods as these guys are supposed to be the best of the best. Also, the French military obviously had a massive amount of time and money already wrapped up into this film, and I am sure actual Naval Commandos were advising on production from start to finish. Still, the inconsistency, and sometimes absurdity of the methods shown, especially during fire fights is peculiar. For instance, breaking perfect cover in a tight little line to initiate an ambush? Or standing once again in a similar line in the wide open Rambo style during another that lasted what seemed like thousands of rounds and tens of minutes? Or fighting primarily during the day even though they had full night vision capability, something the rusty AK wielding Taliban foot soldiers surely lacked (this was probably due to production costs or something)? The operational realism depicted in the film was simply inconsistent. At one time it seemed fairly realistic, at another it was downright embarrassing to watch.
So by now you must think that I hated this movie right? Honestly, I actually enjoyed it to a certain extent! Sure, all of the above made for a horrible film, and I guess it was pretty bad, but kinda in an awesome way. The movie just took itself way to seriously for exhibiting such a flimsy script and blocky flow. But with all the bad there was some pretty damn good elements too. Back to the cinematography, it was really eye-popping for a relatively small film. This movie just loves high-resolution big screen televisions in a similar way that Discoveries “Life” did. Clearly, the French went out of their way to display a serious mix of their military’s hardware in spectacular fashion, just as the US Navy did for Act of Valor. From Mirage 2000 fighters to their nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, in the end the French military was really the star of the show. Also, the fire fights did have their fair share of action and the budget was not spared on bloody bullet impacts. In other words, it was pretty gory and the effects of the commandos weapons seemed well portrayed. So the action was there, as was the military technology, buy the tonnage actually.
In the end this movie is, well, just really strange and truly a mixed bag. About 2/3rds of it was in subtitles, which really made no difference for viewing as there was not a ton of talking (thank goodness), and sure the whole thing may have turned out as a bit of a still-born homage to the French Special Forces and their military as a whole, mixed with some lucid commentary on the cost of war or something, but that is what kinda makes it fun. If you view it for its visuals and without trying to compare it to Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan, I think it is worth an hour and a half of your time. In fact I really don’t even know if I can give this film a rating as it would be far below my actual recommendation depending on the person’s taste. Here is my best attempt at recommending this film:
If you love military hardware, heroism, strong visuals and action films that traditionally feature to such elements than I would actually recommend this movie as a fun popcorn flick for a slow evening. If you are looking for something that actually accomplishes something deeper than showcasing a line of Super Pumas and Tiger helicopters snaking through valleys and tons of spent brass hitting the sand then make sure not to watch this film because you will absolutely hate it and you will hate me for recommending it.
In the end the this film could have been so much more than it ended up being, all the elements were there, but sadly the childish script and poor direction turned Special Forces into the Special Olympics way to many times to for the average viewer to look past.
FOR THE AVERAGE PERSON: C-
FOR THE PEOPLE WHO READ THIS SITE DAILY: B
Special Forces is currently available on demand on most cable networks…