Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Cedric Jimenez
Stars: Jean Dujardin, Anais Demoustier, Sandrine Kiberlain, Lyna Khoudri, Saraj Afcahin, Jeremie Renier.
A mix of fact and fiction this tense drama is set against the backdrop of the series of coordinated terrorist attacks that shook Paris in November 2015. 130 people were killed and over 400 injured in the attacks that targeted the Stade de France soccer stadium, bars and cafes in the vicinity and a rock concert at the Bataclan theatre. But rather than depict the atrocities, director Cedric Jimenez and co-writer Olivier Demangel focus on the aftermath and the frantic efforts of the SDAT, France’s elite counter terrorist unit to track down the killers and prevent another attack.
The hunt for two terrorists at large in the city unfolds largely from the perspective of agents from the counter-terrorist unit, and in particular Fred (Oscar winner Jean Dujardin, from The Artist, etc), the indefatigable head of the unit, Marco (Jeremie Renier) who co-ordinates the daily operations, and ambitious Ines Moreau (Anais Demoustier, from Anais In Love, etc) whose impetuous actions may well hold the key to the investigation. As Fred co-ordinates the massive effort to direct the unit’s various investigations as they sift through social media and numerous tips from the public, his boss Heloise (Sandrine Kiberlain, from Another World, etc) runs interference with the politicians constantly demanding updates and results.
Then Ines receives a tip from a woman named Samia (Lyna Khoudri), who is concerned about her flatmate Hasna (Saraj Afcahin), whose cousin may be involved with a man who may be a terrorist, and this leads the unit to a homeless encampment situated under a freeway overpass, where Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the suspected terrorist leader and mastermind of the attacks, may be hiding out.
Apart from a prologue set in Athens several months before the events depicted here, November unfolds over a period of five frantic days, and Jimenez captures the intensity of the manhunt and the pressure cooker environment of this adrenaline-charged race against time to prevent another attack. The film is quite tense and suspenseful and moves at pace. Eschewing the traditional format of the police procedural with its heroic detective front and centre, Jimenez (The Man With The Iron Heart, etc) juggles a number of threads and characters, which means that we don’t gain a lot of personal insights into the characters. He brings a documentary like air of realism to the gritty material as he captures the chaotic sprawling investigation that involved hundreds of police officers and hours of intense investigation. The film has been deftly edited by Laure Gardette, and the hand-held camerawork from cinematographer Nicholas Loir and the driving score from Guillaume Roussel also adds to the suspense.
Dujardin is better known for his light comedic roles in films like The Artist and the bumbling hero of the OSS117 series of spy spoofs, but he brings an intensity to his serious role here as the head of the counter-terrorist unit. Khoudri brings a touch of humanity to the film through her character, who is initially treated with suspicion by the police. Kiberlain is largely sidelined with her thankless role as Heloise.
November is a gripping and fast paced thriller that holds the audience in its grip for the duration.