Director Pierre Morel made something of a splash in the action world a number of years ago with cult hit Banlieue 13 a.k.a. District B13 (2004). As great as that film was, it was really his follow up movie Taken (2008) that really put him on the map, with it not only showing off Morel’s skill in lensing action but paving a new path in the career of its leading man Liam Neeson.
None of Morel’s subsequent films after Taken have really had the same impact, but the likes of From Paris with Love (2010) or The Gunman (2015) certainly had their own values, with them still showing off Morel’s clear flair for action. Things have been somewhat quiet from Morel recently, with his last feature being the Jennifer Garner star vehicle Peppermint (2018).
Thankfully that has all changed, with Morel returning to the director’s chair for The Ambush a.k.a. Al Kameen, an Emirati actioner that is slightly different from Morel’s other work. Whilst still within the action genre, this is the first time that Morel has attempted a war movie.
Additionally, unlike the majority of his previous movies, The Ambush isn’t bolstered by the appearance of a Hollywood star in the lead, with the main cast made up of a roster of unknowns, at least to Western audiences. This is very much to the film’s advantage. Whilst Emirati viewers may be aware of who the cast are, the unfamiliarity to Western audiences lends an air of authenticity to proceedings, and unlike a Hollywood star vehicle it makes it unclear of who will actually survive which adds to the tension to no end.
Set in 2018 during the Yemen War, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Armed Forces are sent to Mocha to assist. Three of the UAE soldiers, Ali Al-mismari (Marwan Abdulla Saleh), Bilal Al Saadi (Khalifa Al Jassem) and Al Hindasi (Mohammed Ahmed) are on the final patrol of their deployment when they are ambushed by heavily armed militants. Trapped in a remote valley, it is now up to their commanding officer to stage a daring operation to rescue his men.
The Ambush has proven to be something of a success for Morel, with it becoming the highest-grossing Emirati and Arabic-language film ever in the UAE. With that in mind, it is understandable why distributor Well Go USA would acquire the rights. Although I don’t think it will do the same business Stateside, it is still an accomplished piece of work even if it isn’t completely successful, with it having many of the inherent issues of the genre with the plot being extremely one sided with paper thin characters.
Not knowing a great deal about the true story the film is based on, I can’t truly comment how faithful it is to the facts. Still, I would assume that the lives of the real life members of the UAE who were involved in this battle weren’t so black and white as what is portrayed here.
While the main cast all give the performances their all, we don’t get to know a great deal about their characters other than they are all painted as heroic. There are no cowards here, at least on the UAE side. Most of the characters are mostly one note, with only the briefest information being given about their history and backgrounds. Only Omar Bin Haider’s Ali is given some more depth by showing his wife back home, but this is quickly forgotten when the fighting begins. Luckily the actors convey enough emotion that the audience still cares about their predicament and survival.
Although character development is underdeveloped amongst the UAE, it is non-existent when it comes to their attackers, with the “insurgents” portrayed as the same stereotypical villains that so many other war films have done. Now, I am no way condoning their actions, especially considering The Ambush is based on a true story, but it would have made a nice change to at least be shown their reasoning other than being shown as bloodthirsty savages.
In fact, I have noted online that some have complained about the film being propaganda depending on your political point of view. In some respects I can agree, but to be honest, this argument could be posed to the majority of war movies, no matter which country they originate from. Outside of China, both The Battle at Lake Changjin (2021) and its sequel have been constantly described as being political propaganda which I wouldn’t disagree with. However, looking past this, they are still terrific action films, filled to the brim with breathtaking battle scenes. In order to truly enjoy The Ambush, I would advise viewers to do the same, look past the politics and just enjoy the story being told.
Putting aside the politics, Morel still fills the film with beautifully filmed action scenes, and keeps the pace moving at a fair pace although there is the odd lull in the action that slows events down. A small amount of tightening could have been done in the editing, but this is a minor quibble and ultimately doesn’t do much harm to the finished film.
What makes The Ambush stick out from similar genre efforts is its visuals, with Morel employing Luc Besson’s regular cinematographer Thierry Arbogast. Any fan of Besson’s will be aware of Arbogast’s work, with him creating beautiful imagery in such classics as Nikita (1990) and Leon the Professional (1994). The same is true here, and although his work on The Ambush doesn’t reach the heights of those classics mentioned, it is suitably stylish and puts many larger budgeted films to shame.
Another feather in The Ambush’s cap is a memorable score from Hollywood heavyweight Harry Gregson-Williams. No stranger to action blockbusters, he has been a regular composer for brothers Ridley and Tony Scott, composing the scores for such classics as Man on Fire (2004) and Kingdom of Heaven (2007). His music is a rousing accompaniment to the action and certainly sets the appropriate tone.
The Ambush will certainly find an audience amongst war movie fans. It is certainly a case of style over substance, with a smoke filled scene towards the finale being somewhat self indulgence. Even so, everything comes together to make an exciting actioner. It may not be as classic as some of distributor Well Go USA’s other releases, but viewers will still be in for an exciting 100 minutes.
Plot: 3.5/5 Acting: 3.5/5 Action: 3.5/5 Overall: 3.5/5