Athena Movie Review



Reviewed for Film Factual by Abe Friedtanzer

Director: Romain Gavras

Writer: Romain Gavras, Ladj Ly, Elias Belkeddar

Cast: Dali Benssalah, Anthony Bajon, Sami Slimane, Ouassini Embarek, Alexis Manenti

Screened at: Netflix, LA, 12/5/22

Opens: September 9th, 2022

The notion of a police force is meant to protect the people, to stop crime and to ensure that all citizens are following the law. Yet, too often, those charged with keeping the peace are its worst abusers, using their power to exert undue influence and cruelty upon those unable to fight back. This happens disproportionately to communities of color, and is not unique to the United States. Following an impactful film about unchecked police force, Les Misérables, another French film, Athena, presents an intense and emphatic portrait of what can happen when the people decide they will no longer stand for being unfairly targeted.

Athena opens strongly with a large group gathered at a police station following the filmed murder at the hands of police of an Algerian teenager named Idir. One brother, Abdel (Dali Benssalah), is a soldier and urges calm, but another brother, Karim (Sami Slimane), promptly creates chaos, leading the theft of a police vehicle to the neighborhood complex home to many Algerians. As the fourth brother, Moktar (Ouassini Embarek), attempts to keep things levelheaded, tensions only rise with the police coming to restore order and many residents arming themselves seemingly for a fight to the death.

From its first scene, which is stunningly filmed and truly invites audiences in to this world, Athena is gripping. The circumstances of Idir’s death need not be explained any more than they are, and there’s enough context just in the way that people react to each other to dismiss any unnecessary backstory. This has already become a full-blown riot that can’t be stopped, and the stolen vehicle is even fired upon as it approaches the complex because those shooting don’t know that it isn’t being driven by police. This film is a series of irreversible events, all influenced by what came before and sure to shape whatever comes next until the eventual cessation of tensions that will inevitably result from the deaths of many furious civilians. 

There is a ferocity to this film that’s felt from its opening scene until the credits roll, grabbing audiences and embedding them fully into the intensity of this world. As each brother is spotlighted, it’s clear that they have their own experiences that have influenced them, but what unites them, aside from their familial relationship to one another, is the inescapability of their situation. When Karim takes a police officer hostage, both Abel and Moktar appeal to him to be reasonable, since the outcome of that action will surely result in Karim’s death, something that he appears to be prepared for and to have factored in as an acceptable loss given the gravity of what is happening. 

Three very strong performances anchor a film that remarkably makes time to spotlight its characters as it slows down ever so briefly to zoom in from the masses that have gathered to create chaos and make their stand. Les Misérables co-writer and director Ladj Ly serves as co-writer of this film, which takes the feel of a few moments from his previous film and expands them to the entire film, which is in excellent hands from co-writer and director Romain Gavras. The cinematography, from Matias Boucard, is unrelenting and truly immersive, while the score, by Surkin, is urgent and deafening, heightening every moment to underline its severity. The film succeeds both as undeniable social commentary and as a riveting cinematic experience that resonates even through a television screen on Netflix. Running just 99 minutes, Athena is a formidable showcase of tight, captivating filmmaking.

99 minutes

Story – A-

Acting – A-

Technical – A-

Overall – A-

Kourtrajmeuf Kourtrajme / Netflix

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