The hijacking took place on the 24th December, but there's not a Christmas tree in sight, perhaps because director Julien Leclercq wished to avoid echoes of Die Hard 2, but also because the film is at pains to refrain from any obvious tugging on the heart-strings. The tone throughout is cool and impartial. A few of the characters are quickly and subtly sketched in – there's Tierry (Vincent Elbaz,) a SWAT officer who feels alienated from his wife and daughter, and Carole (Melanie Bernier,) an ambitious Arab-speaking Foreign Ministry analyst who suspects that the terrorists are plotting a 9/11-style assault on Paris. On the whole, though, they're subsumed into, and dwarfed by, the unfolding drama.
Within the limits of what they're asked to do, the cast are all very good, especially Bernier, whose mini-battles with a sluggish bureaucracy and chauvinistic colleagues provide a nice counterpoint to the main event. Leclercq, best-known for the medical thriller Chrysalis, directs in a proficient if slightly anonymous style, with a twitchy hand-held camera and stock desaturated almost to black and white. It's all slightly chilly, but powerful in a cumulative way, especially once you get to the storming of the plane. Here the director's eye for meticulous, documentary detail comes into play – the stacks of pine coffins brought in by Jeep beforehand in anticipation of casualties, a visor sheering off from a helmet when struck by a ricochet – and the understated characterization also makes a point about the value of quiet professionalism in such extreme circumstances.
Some might find the lack of a stronger emotional charge slightly offputting, but others will be impressed by Leclercq's determination to allow events to speak for themselves. And if you're fond of Gallic offerings with a tough edge, then this sinewy and compact piece of filmmaking might be just the ticket.