Slick and pacey, this military thriller feels contrived as it ramps up the drama, but it has a terrific cast and a vivid sense of violent peril and political instability. The film gets increasingly worthy as it goes along, but is sharp enough to engage us.
Barely recovered from a full-on secret mission to Kosovo, the French Special Forces team (including Hounsou, Menochet, Figlarz and Marius) heads to the mountains of Pakistan, where journalist Elsa (Kruger) and her local assistant (Nebbou) have been kidnapped by wild-eyed fanatic Zaief (Degan). The team is joined on the ground by Tic-Tac (Magimel), and while the rescue goes to plan, Zaief's well-armed militia is relentless (Personnaz's sniper calls them "playful"). And getting out is trickier than these six tough guys expected.
The script tries to squeeze in a few details about the soldiers, but the snappy machismo of their banter is a lot more fun, while quick editing and a pulsing score maintain the feeling that everything's hugely important. As their epic trek continues, gunfire gets both more frequent and more gruesome. But there are also revealing moments, including the fact that the villain is an English-speaking Westerner.
More intriguing is the way the team watches helplessly as people are killed so they can stay on-mission. And killing people actually makes them pause: this job isn't easy on the conscience, but they're willing to do the grisly work if they have to. Which is something similar American films like Act of Valor never acknowledge.
Indeed, even with the adept cast and skilful filmmaking, this is an unnerving, scrappy action movie infused with humour and drama, even if the dangers, deaths and injuries wear us out. The film also cross-cuts unnecessarily to a ship-based admiral (Karyo) and French government officials, touching on political issues both in Asia and Europe.
So there's a real sense that the Pakistani people are caught in the crossfire between Western military and ruthless Taliban warlords who seem only interested in settling personal grudges. But in the end, the the earnest Saving Journalist Elsa sensibility is a bit much, as is the Sound of Music-like escape across the mountains. All of this may strain credibility, but it's still an involving journey.