Special Forces aka Forces Spéciales (2011) French Special Forces on a Rescue Mission in Afghanistan

Forces Spéciales aka Special Forces is an exciting although controversial new French movie with an exciting cast. Apart from the lovely Diane Kruger (Joyeux Noël, Troy) there are Djimon Hounsou (Gladiator), Benoît Magimel (Intimate Enemies), Denis Ménochet (Inglourious Basterds, Robin Hood), Raphaël Personnaz (The Princess of Montpensier), Alain Figlarz (Bourne Identity, 36), Mehdi Nebbou (Body of Lies) and Tchéky Karyo (Bad Boys, The Patriot). I am excited because I didn’t expect an action movie like this to come from France and on this type of topic. There have been a few recent French movies which were outstanding but they focused on WWI, WWII or Algeria, hardly ever are they dedicated to modern-warfare and the special forces.

This is contemporary, fast-paced, action-driven, kick-ass and very authentic. Think The Hurt Locker meets Bravo Two Zero and you get Forces Spéciales. The movie is dedicated to soldiers fallen in Afghanistan and to the journalists who risk their lives in war zones. The support from the French military is obvious, the gear that is displayed is amazing. Due to this the movie is extremely authentic. I’m not into weapons but I like authenticity and this is as authentic as it can get regarding the equipment.

The story is pretty simple. The French war reporter Elsa Casanova (Diane Kruger) gets caught by the Taliban leader Ahmed Zaief in Afghanistan. She has been conducting interviews with women and called the leader “the butcher of Kabul” in her articles. The last of the women she tries to interview warns her. They are both in great danger. Too late. Zaief captures her informant first and then lures Elsa into an ambush. He threatens to kill her and films the execution of one of her assistants and sends it to France. The French president and his advisors are informed of her captivity and decide to send Special Forces to save her.

The group of men manage to free her but when they arrive at the pick up place, the helicopter doesn’t arrive. Similar like in Bravo Two Zero, they cannot get in contact with anyone as their radio equipment has been destroyed. Time was a crucial factor in the escape and now that the helicopter won’t come, the Taliban leader and his men close in on them. They have no other choice and try to escape over the mountains. This is a catastrophe. Not only are they not equipped for high altitudes and snow but they are hunted by a large group of men.

They have to stop and fight more than once. They also need to decide at some point whether to defend villagers who have helped them against the Taliban  or try to save themselves first. Each of the men is trained in another specialty. The scenes in which the sniper is center stage are, as is usual, the most exciting ones.

The group is very likable and because these are men who have undergone an amazing training, there is a bit of superhero flavour. And they have managed to squeeze in a love story.

The strength of this movie, apart from the suspense, action and the amazing gear that is displayed, is the cast. This is one of the most appealing casts I have seen in a long time.

I also liked the score a lot but it’s not original. It’s heavily influenced by other movies. Gladiator among others.

All in all, this is a highly watchable, action-packed movie with a solid story and great actors and certainly a movie fans of The Hurt Locker and Bravo Two Zero should not miss.

I mentioned initially that this is a controversial movie but didn’t say why. As authentic as the gear and the initial scenes look, there are a few instances which are not logical later on. Agreed. The movie hasn’t received a lot of positive reviews by the French press because it was felt to be too propagandist. I’m not sure if any movie that displays army equipment and is supported by the military has to be called propagandist. Maybe it is because more than an anti-war message it carries an anti-Taliban message? In any case, it’s more of an action than a war movie, this should have become obvious by now. I suggest you watch it and let me know how you feel.

Here are two very different trailers which will give you a good idea.

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21 thoughts on “Special Forces aka Forces Spéciales (2011) French Special Forces on a Rescue Mission in Afghanistan

  1. the war movie buff says:

    Is it based on a true story? LOL It sounds like “Act of Valor”. I have trouble with movies that make us feel good by having the theme of “this is what we would do to the terrorists if we had a chance”. It just reminds me that we don’t have these scenarios happening.

    It does sound exciting and watchable. It appears that it breaks no new ground plot-wise.

    Unfortunately, it will be a while before it’s available.

    I can see why it was ripped by liberal critics. Same as “Act of Valor”.

    • I haven’t seen Act of Valor but judging from comments of people who have, it (Special Forces is better) is much better. I personally think you would like it. There are a few elements which are not so plausible. I think it’s quite close to Bravo Two Zero. Only much more modern. Give it a try, once it’s available. Maybe I should do a giveaway?

  2. Casey says:

    I just watched it and have mixed feelings.

    It was very refreshing to see actual aircraft and explosions instead the usual CGI fair. The cast was very likeable and I think the director managed to portray the type of comradery that only a close nit group has fantastically. The story, while simple, hooked me instantly after all how many movies are there about French Special Forces.

    I can understand it interpreted it as propaganda. The bad guys massacring the village, the smiling woman, Casanova screaming “I Love this country” left bit of a taste of that in my mouth more than the support of the French military. Then again that all could be interpreted as the type of extremes that take place in war. I’m not French so perhaps I don’t quite understand the intent of the director.

    As for the bad it seemed to have a bit of James Bond feel to it at times. Which while somewhat fitting in a movie called Special forces I feel it made things feel much less believable. One peeve I have developed lately is to much music in war movies. It colors things to much and this movie is horribly guilty of it. I know these guys are badasses. I don’t need tough guy music to remind me. That sort of thing is is for Rambo movies, I could do with out the never ending spinning helicopter shots as well.

    Still despite the flaws I’ll take this sort of movie where I can get it. There are so few much less from the French. The cast was great and I couldn’t stop watching.

    • I must openly admit I was very enthusiastic when I was writing my review and a tad biased as I am French. Still I had faint mixed feelings as well as I always have them when watching movies like this when one isn’t entirely sure what they wanted to say. I thought it was still quite good. It is very guilty in the music department but I am a sucker for music. Not sure how many recent films would work for me without it.
      People who liked it said it was great because it wasn’t a conventional movie, meaning different from American movies. I think that’s not true. The use of music and the “superhero” thing is quite American.
      I personally think the movie wanted to show the world that the French Special Forces are as good as any of the other elite troops there are. They are not as often in the spotlight but they are well trained and combat experienced as any Navy Seal. France has a long tradition of guerilla warfare they had to develop first in Indochina and then in Algeria. I’m not saying this because I’m proud, just stating it as a fact. My father served and was in combat, just an infantry man but I know from him about the special forces and some of the training they as simple infantry men had to undergo.
      In any case, I found it a refreshing movie as well and the first 20 minutes or so, because there was no use of CGI, as you mention, is great.
      France has meanwhile one of the largest Muslim populations in the world, maybe the largest outside of Northern Africa. The movie clearly is anti-fundamentalism.

      • Mbulaheni Tshilidzi Vincent says:

        The movi its jzt perfet i whatch that movie 6 times sometime i cyr about what was happening in afganista, i cry because i fells like the movie based on true story

      • I know what you mean. I liked it a lot as well. i couldn’t understand that it received such harsh reviews.

  3. […] on two of my recent reviews (The Front Line and Special Forces) made me question the use of music in war movies. I remember that I was once not so keen on music […]

  4. […] long ago I reviewed the French movie Forces Spéciales – Special Forces (here) and so it was only natural I would also watch Act of Valor sooner or later, especially since The […]

  5. Jack says:

    Forces Speciales is a very low quality war film. Nothing against the French special forces, but the film has no emotional force and is not special. Saving journalists is a dangerous task in reality and the film never comes to terms with the fact that krugers character is truly culpable for the murders of the whole village and four of six of the squad. The quips from the team are full of polished and inoffensive bravado- all of the men are terribly nice individuals. In this respect they are far too one dimensional. The Taliban are also ridiculously depicted. They are led by a bond-esq Cambridge villain, and seem to be constantly attempting to reassert the military doctrines of the napoleonic war by adavancing slowly in a long line whist holding their fire. They are inevitably mown down by commandos who seem to think that standing in a triangle, hence presenting the enemy with a large bulk of flesh to shoot at, is the best way to repel them. The guns may be accurate but everything else is fantasy. Indeed the idea that the French government would unilaterally send SF into Pakistan without any consultation from ISAF or support from the USAF is insane. The scenes on the Charles De Gaulle and with the President are so emphatic of a desire to present France as militarily self-reliant that they appear to laud a French version of North Korea’s ‘jutse’ concept. Indeed where are the Pakistani security forces whilst this 10 day battle rages through their country? Presumably aitting with their feet up in little blue helmets drinking chai and blissfully unaware of the repeated infraction of Pakistani airspace by the French air force. At the end when the Admiral takes the journalist on the helicopter to find the last surviving commandos the film degenerates further into some sort of Hollywood fairytale.

    • I suppose I watched it far less crtically than you and just enjoyed the ride.
      I thought the pictures were really great and the charcaters likable. One dimensional, yes.
      Of course I agree, I have a problem as well with the fact that journalists are oftend depicted as pure victims.
      I suppose watching this with the point of view of it being a pure adventure story would work better.
      As for the flying over Pakistan, that, I would assume, isn’t unrealistic. After all, it’s a bunch of terrorist and not the Pakistani government who too the journalist. So they might agree to being overflown. But that just an opinion.
      Thanks for your comment.
      Indeed it’s a propagandist movie, that can’t be denied.

    • Kent says:

      This movie is 3x better than Zero Dark Thirty and Lone Survivor . which says a lot. Im so sick of all US-is-best-we-think-we-are-the-world-police-and-overuse-the-word-freedom-and-believes-god-only-blesses-America movies. It was revealing to dont have to see all flag waiving idiots and enjoy some real heroes…

  6. nem baj says:

    I’ll second the idea that its quite a bad movie, for many reasons already listed. Except maybe if watched strictly as an action flick, but I wouldn’t know…

    Yet, I may be wrong but I think it’s the first time ever the French produce a fiction film about a war on foreign soil their forces are currently engaged in. And since the end of WWII they’ve been deployed many many times (see a list, in French, on this website).

    So I guess they deserve something for trying.

    • Part of my initial enthusiasm was certainly due to the fact that for once we see that not only the US and the UK have special forces. I suppose I watched it more like an action flick and the comparison to Act of valor, in my book, makes this look much better.
      Maybe if I wrote the review again I would call it a guilty pleasure. I’m not sure. I still think it was well done, the way it was filmed and told and I cared for the charcaters.

  7. Rudra Mukherjee says:

    rather than Act of Valor……it much more resembles Tears of The Sun…..instead of Nigeria it got Afghanistan…..

  8. steve says:

    I just finished watching the movie. First off I am US Army Retired Staff Sergeant(retired after 20 years in 1995),and I loved this movie. I was around a few US Special Forces in my career and yes this movie is very realistic. Only a ,excuse my saying this, liberal would somehow see this as propaganda (unbelievable). While this is not based a factual events that I know of, it’s still very realistic and authentic. It does show what Special Forces from all over the world could go through on their missions. Very worth watching over again.

    • I’m very glad to hear you liked it as well.
      I didn’t think it was all that propagandist or any movie supported by the military would be. In my opinion propaganda measn that a movie tries to make people enlist and/or that it supports a war. I don’t think that’s what happens here at all. You’re comment put me in the mood to re-watch it.

  9. RAY says:

    this is a great movie has good as any war movie i have seen as good has Act of valor ,lone Survivor and many more ,don’t understand people not liking it ,very very good movie recommend to any one

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