When war correspondent Elsa Casanova (Diane Kruger) is taken hostage by the Taliban in Afghanistan, a French Special Forces unit is dispatched to rescue her. What ensues is some of the most melodramatic military action we’ve seen in recent memory—slo-mo gun-downs, heroic death scenes and comrades grieving dramatically.
The Special Forces team is led by Kovax (Djimon Hounsou), a tough, straight-talking commando who will spare nothing to complete his mission of bringing Casanova back in one piece, even when his men are dropping like flies (spoiler alert: obviously, the best-looking ones die last). To pull off an audience-pleasing narrative, implausible coincidences and tactical head-scratches are woven into the storyline; there isn’t so much credibility as there is incredulity. But for what it’s worth, the movie does paint an affecting portrait of a soldier—one that touches on the sacrificial nature of the career, the pressure of making life-and-death decisions and the job hazard of physical and mental agony. It does make one think: at how many lives does it become too great a price to pay for that of another, especially in a soldier-civilian context?
Director Stéphane Rybojad succeeds in wringing no small amount of emotion from his viewers (as observed from the tangible expressions of shock or dismay reverberating through the cinema hall) as the characters move from one attack to the next, escaping death by the skin of their teeth. The multiple aerial shots of harshly beautiful landscapes, from snow-capped mountains to blistering deserts add to the thrill of the cat-and-mouse chase. Special Forces is not a bad watch, but neither is it a terribly memorable one.