Special Forces (2011) DVD Review: Worth a Look if You Listen in French

Not the best of the recent crop of Desert Storm-related flicks, but not the worst either.
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Set in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, Special Forces is the story of Elsa (Diane Kruger, Inglorious Basterds, National Treasure), a French journalist who stirs the ire of warlord Ahmed Zaief. She's writing a story about his abuses against women and because she pushes too far, she and her guide Amin are kidnapped by Zaief's men and brought to their camp in Pakistan. The French government gives the green light to send a unit of naval commandos who specialize in difficult extraction tasks, to save Amin and Elsa.

Special-Force-DVD-coverLed by Kovax (Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond, Gladiator) this team of specialists parachutes into enemy territory, quickly finding Elsa and Amin. Their exit is hampered by Zaief's soldiers, but they manage to flee on foot towards the mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush minus most of their communication equipment. The bulk of the film details their dangerous journey, barely staying ahead of the Taliban, who want to retake their hostages at any cost.

While the acting is fine, the plot is captivating enough, the action plentiful, and the cinematography is gorgeous, the film itself suffers from several flaws.

Would subtitles be so bad?

This 2011 release is a French project, written and directed by Stéphane Rybojad, filmed partially in France, with the dialogue completely in French. While the original release had subtitles, the DVD version that hits the shelves today (at least in Region 1) is completely dubbed in English in the default audio setting. Granted, hearing the spoken English is a tad easier for the mechanics of following the plot. The problem is two, maybe three-fold. First, the realization that it was not Djimon Hounsou's exquisite voice coming out of his mouth - but that of some other English-speaking bloke - was at the, least quite off-putting. In this instance, it would be worth reviewing in the original French with English subtitles.

Second, there were far too many instances where something in the intonation or the pacing of the spoken (dubbed) voices did not mesh with the rest of the scene. Bluntly put, the effect was too similar to a '70s Kung Fu flick.  And while this disparity was jarring, it was made worse by some questionable dialogue. Not questionable like an expletive-filled Tarantino flick, but just too silly. Think Expendables-type silly. It's not unheard of to have soldiers cracking wise in these sorts of movies, but here it does not work very well because...

Uneven Narrative

While overall the story had adequate flow, there were spots where the editing, directing, or writing produced choppy scenes. Multiple viewings help to fill in some of the weak spots. But the humor felt forced and ill-placed. And as mentioned before the poor dubbing did not help.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

David Jankowski does not have a great deal of film credits as a cinematographer but his work here in Special Forces is quite stunning as he filmed in Tajikstan, France, and Africa. However, there were just a tad too many long shots showing Elsa and her rescuers hiking through the fierce wilderness. It brings the viewer out of the story too often, and there are already enough factors that distracted from a fairly decent story.


DVD Special Features: Aside from a handful of deleted scenes, there was just one special feature. Titled "Marius," this segment briefly highlights the actor who plays Marius, Alain Alivon. He is a real-life leader in the French Naval Commandos, whose leadership style is mildly interesting if only for the fact that you're watching the routine shtick of a drill instructor yelling at his charges, but in French, instead of English.

Technical: Aspect Ratio 16x9 (2.35:1) for the DVD, and the audio was 2.0 Dolby Digital for the English version.

Final Verdict: Worth a look, but consider switching to French audio if the dubbing issues prove to be too cumbersome.

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