Based on an actual event, “The Ambush” tells a remarkable story of heroism, sacrifice, and survival through a harrowing encounter in war-torn Yemen. Directed by Pierre Morel (“Taken”), the film first released on November 25, 2021 in the United Arab Emirates. Since, it has gone on to become the country’s highest grossing Emirati film ever made. With its setting, intensity, and overall quality, “The Ambush” is a solid entry into the war film catalog.
For context, in 2015 following years of civil unrest, the foreign backed Al Houthi Militia overthrew the government of Yeman and seized control of the vast majority of the country. As a war broke out between rebels and loyalists, innocent civilians paid a heavy price. The instability strengthened many terrorist groups in the region leading Yemini President Hadi to reach out to his international allies for help. As part of a gulf coalition, members of the UAE military were deployed with many patrolling the area and providing much-needed aid to civilians. After three years, the coalition was still trying to help stabilize the ravaged region.
The film opens with the obligatory introduction to the UAE soldiers we’ll be spending most of our time with. At Mocha Base in Southern Yemen, Ali (Marwan Abdulla Saleh), Bilal (Khalifa Al Saadi), and Hindasi (Mohammed Ahmed) are only one week away from getting to go home to their families (rarely a good sign at the start of a war movie). While out on one of their final patrols the three learn about possible insurgent activity in some nearby foothills just off their normal patrol route. After delivering some supplies to a local settlement, they decide to check it out.
As they drive through a rocky jagged canyon, they’re suddenly hit by an RPG rocket. And then another one. Before long they’re taking a hail of small arms fire as insurgents descend into the valley and surround their disabled armored vehicle. Inside, Ali, Bilal, and Hindasi radio for back-up. Mocha Base immediately deploys a rescue team, but it will be at least an hour before reinforcements, led by a determined Colonel Mazrouie (Abdulla Saeed Bin Haider), can reach the incapacitated soldiers. That leaves Ali, Bilal, and Hindasi to survive the calculated ambush on their own until help arrives.
There are two facets of the story that plays out over the remaining runtime. Early on, most attention is given to the three soldiers trapped within the armored hull as enemy forces gather. Later it becomes about the rescue itself with Mazrouie and his team arriving and being met with heavy resistance. Both are thrilling and inevitably come together in the film’s final act. Morel both shoots and paces the action well which gives us a realistic sense of what these soldiers endured.
At the same time he does get a little carried away in an extended sequence near the end of the film. It’s a visually arresting 15 minutes or so, but it goes a little too heavy on the smoke and slow-motion. It’s simply a case of drawing a scene out longer than he needs to. Otherwise, the film’s gritty and grounded visuals (shot by veteran cinematographer Thierry Arbogast) do a good job enhancing the realism and immersing the audience.
The movie also does good remembering the human element, although admittedly it does lean into some pretty familiar war movie tropes. Still, it never crosses a line, and we get just enough character development for us to care about the troops and root for their survival. Then you get some added potency from just knowing the film is based on a real account. It’s all harnessed in what is a satisfying war movie. It doesn’t get lost in the history or politics of the region. Instead, it shows us the soldier’s perspective. And that alone makes it a story worth telling. “The Ambush” is out now on VOD.