Rebellion (L'Ordre et la Morale): Film Review

Sincere but leaden-footed hostage drama fails to impart director's passion.

The Mathieu Kassovitz film is an account of a real-life hostage drama by a group of separatist rebels in France's New Caledonia territory in the South Pacific in 1988.

PARIS — In Mathieu Kassovitz's Rebellion, France's elite police intervention force GIGN get their second big-screen outing this year, following Julien Leclercq's hijack drama The Assault. But where the earlier film cut promptly to the chase, this is the story of a hostage-taking negotiation undermined by political scheming, requiring lengthy exposition before finally erupting into action. It feels over-researched and under-dramatized. It is also overlong. It will be a hard sell even in France, let alone in other territories.

Like Assault, Rebellion is an account of a real-life hostage drama. When a group of separatist rebels in France's New Caledonia territory in the South Pacific seize 30 gendarmes, specialist negotiator Philippe Legorjus, played by Kassovitz himself, is called in at the head of a seven-man GIGN unit to defuse the crisis. He and his men are in turn are taken hostage but the rebels release him to allow him to serve as mediator between the army chiefs who are planning an assault and the rebel leader Alphonse Dianou (Iabe Lapacas).

The two men establish a rapport and things seem to be heading for a peaceful resolution. However, a key electoral deadline is looming — the drama takes place between the two rounds of the 1988 presidential election — and the government, headed by presidential challenger Jacques Chirac, wants to present an image of toughness. Overseas minister Bernard Pons (Daniel Martin) is on the spot to insist on a hard-line approach. Having promised Dianou to do his best to help him, Legorjus is forced under orders to go back on his word.

There are numerous plot complications and for the film to succeed Kassovitz has to get the spectator to share his undoubted passion over events taking place in a remote corner of the globe a quarter of a century ago. He does not help his cause with inadequate characterization. He sees Legorjus's dilemma over Dianou as one of Shakespearean proportions, but he fails to impart much warmth or mythic power to the relationship. And even the climactic assault on the grotto where the hostage-takers are holed up, filmed entirely from the attackers' point of view, feels oddly perfunctory. As lead actor, Kassovitz seems at times to be distracted by his other duties (apart from directing, he also co-produced, co-scripted and co-edited).

The visuals are unfussy, though for a $20 million movie Rebellion is adequate rather than spectacular. Overall it feels hidebound by political correctness, too respectful of approved liberal attitudes. Within the material, apparently unsuspected by Kassovitz and his producers, there is a leaner, meaner, more interesting movie waiting to be worked out.

Opens: In France, Nov. 16
Production companies: Nord-Ouest, UGC Images, Studio 37
Cast: Mathieu Kassovitz, Iabe Lapacas, Malik Zidi, Daniel Martin, Alexandre Steiger, Philippe Torreton, Sylvie Testud, Stefan Godin
Director: Mathieu Kassovitz
Screenwriters: Mathieu Kassovitz, Pierre Geller, Benoit Jaubert
Producers: Christophe Rossignon, Philippe Boeffard
Director of photography: Marc Koninckx
Production designers: Bruno Coupe, Emmanuelle Cuillery
Costume designer: Agnès Bezier
Music: Klaus Badelt
Editors: Mathieu Kassovitz, Thomas Beard, Lionel Duvuyst
Sales: Kinology, Studio 37, UGC
No rating, 136 minutes