Secret défense (2008) Poster

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An excellent french espionage yarn
searchanddestroy-115 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
That's the most wonderful and convincing film ever made about french Intelligence Services - DGSE - the equivalent of the CIA, MI 6 or MOSSAD. A rough, sharp, accurate and awful programmer which tells the story of ordinary people who are manipulated by their own "managers" in order to become decoy themselves. Before being wasted, in the name of the National Security.

It made me puke. But so realistic.

Lanvin is terrific as a cold blooded, ruthless supervisor who doesn't hesitate to sacrifice his own recruits, the rookies. As his character says in the movie: "Agents are not human beings but weapons..."

No comment.

Simon Abkarian is also delightful as a machiavellian terrorist. In this film, many things are revealed about Intellingence horrible proceedings, as well as terrorists networks.

It's the first movie made about that subject since Frederic Schoenderffer's AGANTS SECRETS, in 2004.
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7/10
Magnificent and intelligent French thriller about the restless war against terrorism
ma-cortes18 August 2018
This splendid film gives an insider's view into the French anti-terrorist Agency .How traineers are recruited , besides , how terrorists are created , as each is skillfully directed to their aims . Both sides are playing a deadly chess game requering guided pieces , being controlled by nasty master minds , as they are a beautiful girl named Diane : Vahina Giocante hired by the DGSF , Direction Generale de la Securite Exteriure, to be the sexy decoy , alongside a bomber suicide called Pierre : Nicolas Duvauchelle .Each is manipulated and both of whom are drawn into a long string of twisted happenings: treason , sex , killings , bombings .. from which they seem to be incapable of getaway .They are manipulated by dark forces using the most cruel of arms : human beings .

Stunning thriller full of noisy action , thrills , terrorism , intriguing set pieces , twists , turns and being fastly-paced . However , it bears remarkable resemblance to the American movie The recruit , 2003, by Roger Donaldson with Colin Farrell and Al Pacino .The film delivers a real description of the French Service Secret , whose activity was meticulously researched and efficiently shown ; alongside a parallel story concerning about the restless terrorrism run by a powerful and wealthy Middle East man called Al Barad : Simon Abkarian . It stars Gerard Lanvin who gives a very good acting as Alex , chief of counter-terrorism unit DGSF the French equivalent of the CIA and MI6 , who will stop at nothing to get his purports. Vahina Giocante plays rightly as the female secret service operative who being a failed student is recruited for extremely dangerous missions . Nicolas Duvauchelle performs Pierre as the troubled and imprisoned young who in prison is manipulated for a cause and drawn into a chain of terrible events who thinks bring him salvation .

The movie contains an atmospheric and evocative cinematography by Jerome Almeras , being shot on location in Morocco , stands-in credibility for Afghanistan , Lebanon, Irak and Syria , places where the action actually occurs . As well as a thrilling and moving musical score by Alexandre Azaria who has composed a lot of soundtracks , usually in action genre, such as Transporter 1, 2, 3, Legacy , MSI Lockout , The red inn, Asterix and Vikings , Fanfan La Tulipe .The motion picture was compellingly directed by Philippe Haim .He is a good composer , writer , producer and director . As he has written and directed some successes , such as : in TV as Fearless , Braquo , En immersion , Crossing lines , XIII series and Cinema , such as : Barracuda and The Dalton against Lucky Luke. Rating : Better than averag . The film will appeal to action fans and French cinema aficionados.
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9/10
Tense French Anti-Terrorism Thriller
robert-temple-19 July 2009
It makes a difference to see it from the French point of view. After all, ten percent of the population of France are now refugees or descendants of refugees from Muslim North Africa. This film is about the French Secret Service, which has initials I can never remember, but you know the one. It portrays them as hyper-efficient, hyper-modern, ruthless and dedicated professionals who will, as Gérard Lanvin the lead actor puts it in the film, be 'patriots' who will 'do anything for my country'. And 'anything' really means, unfortunately, 'anything'. The film portrays in grim, horrifying, and fascinating detail the fantastic entrapments devised to recruit young agents in the fight against Muslim terrorism. The French call the Qaeda fanatics by their alternative name of 'Salafis' rather than 'Wahabbis'. The terrorists are portrayed in 'Damascus' and 'Afghanistan' (both actually filmed in Morocco) with extreme and convincing realism. The film is disturbing in many places, with one homosexual rape scene and several murders. I believe the horrifying footage of the dog in the glass cage who is killed by cyanide gas is a real Qaeda video. The set-ups carried out by the French secret service are so devious that they would make Machiavelli blush. The film does not have the Hollywood approach to violence, which always focuses on childish and adolescent fantasies of things crashing and exploding. Instead, the French, who are a far more sophisticated people, concentrate on what happens to people rather than the havoc wreaked to mere objects. In this, they are more straightforward. If a severed head has to be delivered in a cake box, it is delivered in a mundane ordinary manner, and it does not have to be delivered by a helicopter smashing into a skyscraper. Anyway, there are few skyscrapers in Paris, thank God. (Skyscrapers have no business existing anywhere other than New York and Shanghai.) The attitude towards the agent ('humint' to the Americans) is brazenly unfeeling. As Lanvin says: 'An agent is not a person, he is a tool.' Controllers are not allowed to treat their agents as human beings. The film features an astonishingly versatile performance by the young actress Vahina Giocante, who is tricked into becoming an agent, and who screams at Lanvin when she realizes what he has done to her that he is 'all alone'. He answers with resignation: 'Yes, I know.' The whole story is very bleak, that is, when it stops its restless pace of action long enough to allow anyone a moment to reflect. The film is really a most impressive achievement, exciting, well made, relentlessly entertaining, if you have the stomach for the grisly bits. The director, Philippe Haïm, who also wrote the story, appears from his name to be of North African descent, so perhaps he has a special feel for all of this. He has done a superb job of making a French 'blockbuster'
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6/10
French attempt at a Hollywood blockbuster...
Siamois20 July 2009
Secret défense is an interesting movie in that it combines the style of French thrillers with Hollywood mainstream elements. Even during the opening credits, the movie smacks of Tony Scott, right down to the music, which reminds of "Enemy of the State".

I have not seen previous movies from director Philippe Haïm but I sensed he could never firmly put his print on this espionage thriller despite having the best of intentions. The story is cliché but interesting enough despite quite weak dialogs, the pace is appropriate so we get to know all the characters and the tension builds slowly as the "pieces" move in this chess game of terror.

Unfortunately, there's just something missing to make us care about any of these people. Perhaps this movie could have felt more fresh had it come out in 2002 or 2003 but by now it all feels rehashed.

What saves the movie from being sub par is the avoidance of over-the-top action sequences. The movie instead focuses on the cold, calculating work done by both national security agents and terrorists alike. Both sides thrive not due to super-heroic powers (think James Bond here) but rather by a total disregard for human life. The movers and shakers on both sides manipulate their gullible and vulnerable assets into doing their dirty work. Bonus points for the gritty tone which at times might not have been possible in a Hollywood movie.

Food for thoughts: Secret Defense cost 11 million Euros. Considering a movie like "Spy Game" cost 92 million US dollars, it makes you consider Europeans still know how to get a bigger bang for the buck.

Not the most spectacular entry in the genre but worthwhile. This is not classic French cinema. This is not a Hollywood blockbuster. But if you can appreciate an unambitious and entertaining movie somewhere between the two, this might be for you.
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8/10
At last a GOOD French Film!! :) Bravo Philippe Haïm!
jabondy8 July 2009
At last a GOOD French Film!! :) First, to introduce my opinion and place it in perspective, I must say that for more than two decades, I've been watching almost everything released both in the US and in Europe and the best of Asia, South America and the rest of the world. And among all topics, realistic spy/intelligence Films/Mini-Series/TV series has been in my favorites for half a decade. Thus I am a big fan of this genre and one can honestly say that my culture about it as well as about movies in general is quite large. My favorites lately being by far BBC's MI5:Spooks, I've watched all 7 seasons of it (about 100 episodes). Or for example, I'd also recommend The Company (Miniseries) or DeNiro's The Shepherd. Being French, I also watch a lot of our films and I must sadly admit that it is most often a boring torture, especially lately. But not today with Secret Defense. And I can at last happily share and say that SECRET DEFENSE is probably in the BEST entertaining spy French Films released for a long time. (I also rarely write reviews. Only mostly to praise and recommend a good film that might need attention or to sack the worst pretentious ones that attract crowds of sheep despite having been a torture to watch for me).

Why is SECRET DEFENSE so worthy of our attention? First, the storyline is properly well written, simple and plausible rather than far fetched to exaggerated improbabilities for the sole objective of cinematic roller coasting attempts too often seen in this genre. That makes it more believable and interesting. The counseling from renowned French and Oriental experts on this topic was wise, mostly followed and thus effective. There are not that many features on our former DGSE and I praise the production for not going in the James Bond direction but more in the MI5 one. Although one true fan might ask when are we at last gonna see and show how intelligence work can mostly be truly boring or spooky and inhumane? But we're getting in that direction here, right from the beginning when Lanvin introduces himself in saying that an agent must be seen as a weapon only and never as a human.

The final editing is properly paced with no unnecessary elements making the movie properly entertaining and interesting.

Then, the visual directing is OK+ with some cinematographic effects worthy of a big screen release. That is becoming rare.

The excellent beginning credits are Oscar worthy!!

Then the actors directions is not questionable. Gérard Lanvin (lead actor) is perfect as always. Second & third characters are never playing out of tune. That is remarkable in France where even lead actors can sometimes, way too often, be left directed out of tune in the final editing. That is a torture to my hear as much as a bad singer. And I'm not even mentioning second characters that often sound worst than imaginable, worst that the worst liar. Not here.

Vahina Giocante (lead actress) is also very well directed and surprising when she (quite often) manages to make us forget her exquisite beauty and discover her effective tormented face full of emotions that then becomes not only pretty but efficiently emotive, in the Charlize Theron direction. And like Charlize, she has the highly saluted courage of not fearing to not pass over the best primal parts of her, her very beautiful body in the nude and bare butt. And that makes sense to show them since the story uses her beauty as a "weapon, that only is an agent" (dixit Lanvin). A bit too rarely here but more could indeed unfortunately have affected the nature of her performance in the movie. Thanks Vahina.

Overall, All this makes SECRET DEFENSE a very honorable or good French Film, one of its best made in the last decade in the entertaining with a substance spy action genre. So watch it and prove otherwise if you don't agree.
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7/10
A nice spy tale, though nothing like the real thing
AndreHeeger30 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The filmmaker Philippe Haim obviously likes Ridley and Tony Scott and with Secret Defense he delivers a nice try. The problem: he keeps too much to the surface.

Secret Defense has the pace of a Tony Scott production but lacks the depth of character of other movies in the genre like f.e. Syriana. Recruiting a prostitute/student and turning her into a top agent in a matter of (movie) minutes takes some skills. Vahina Giocante sure is pretty (and she was perfect in Lila Dit Ca) but she never gets the chance to deliver a convincing personality (nor do most of the other actors). Half an hour more would have helped the story a lot. The question of course remains: would Haim have been able to fill it accordingly?

But its not just that. The story is too flat, has too many clichés chasing each other and most characters are mainly one dimensional.

Which doesn't mean Secret Defense doesn't deliver. If you like your spy stories to be more like action movies you're in for a treat. A touch of Bourne and Bruce Willis, a bomb here, a sexy agent there. Not bad at all. Just nothing like the real thing.
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8/10
Very intense and very good
kosmasp18 November 2009
This is a very bleak and very well acted movie. It's about the war on terror, but has quite a few other elements to it. You will have more "fun" with the movie, if you read as little as possible about the story of the movie.

Just be aware that the movie is a thriller and has a woman as a central character. It's morally moving on a thin ground, but this is what makes this movie really great. It kept me on my toes guessing, what will happen next. The performances are great and even if you dislike some characters, they are still very engaging and the movie might have some points, you might over think your views.
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1/10
My I don't know how much they spent on the budget but it wasn't worth it!
brianwoodward7729 June 2009
Right, I think the first issue is with the editing, pace was roughly there but it just seemed to stutter in places and when most of the actors seem to have come straight out of stage school the pace really needs to be right on the button(compare and contrast with the UK TV drama, Spooks).

The story was weak and watered down, too many jumps without any suggestion, a poor script and direction also.

Thirdly the female lead, Vahina Giocante, really should have been shown the door after the first week, too much overacting for me, I've seen comedians act better. However I haven't seen any of her other stuff though so it could have been just a duff one for her.

Simon Abkarian has played measured bad guys before and did pretty well but I'm afraid that poor old Gérard Lanvin just didn't have enough script to go on, they spent too much time on the Martyr when they could have worked more on his character.

Sorry I really had high hopes for this and really wanted to like it, I even watched it twice to make sure I wasn't missing anything, but remember this is my opinion I'm sure others will love it. they tried to take the Spooks concept and do a French big budget movie, perhaps they should have got a script re-write and got Mathieu Kassovitz to direct.
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What,'s French For Spooks?
writers_reign25 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
You can't of course copyright a title so if you are going to duplicate one a mere ten years old the least you can do is to be as different as possible. In the case of Secret Defense Jaques Rivette got their first in 1968 but there's not much chance of anyone turning out a film like Rivette so where that was a rambling discursive intellectual exercise this one is more a melange of John Le Carre and David Mamet involving cross and triple cross in the ongoing war against Islamic terrorists bent, as always, on making the rest of the world cry Allah. British television does much the same thing in its series Spooks', indeed one of your friendly neighbourhood terrorists here', Simon Akbarian, appeared in around 6 episodes of Spooks so presumably was able to phone it in for the big screen. Gerard Lanvin, more or less the only 'name' in the cast, is perfectly cast as the head honcho more than prepared to sacrifice his own personnel if and when required and it is, alas, required. Well worth catching.
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3/10
Horrible tendentious propagandistic movie
albert99995 June 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Contains spoilers. This movie is not very french at all. It is a rather poor attempt to transfer the ideology of some US-Secret-Service-flicks to french cinema. The movie consists of a mechanical subsequence of disgusting out-of-law practices of some secret-service-maniacs and some crazy guys that are not any better than the Secret-Service guys. The director tries hard to convince the viewer, that things work that way in reality and that its good that way, i.e. co-workers can be tortured any time just because of their religion - you never know. Women are shown as sexual objects and abuse is not only part of the game but it is the game. What makes this movie disgusting is that the directors don't crititze thiese practices, but they advertise it. They show what they think - their own narrow-minded fear driven moral.

Plot is poor too: The movie starts with a girl that doesn't pass an exam at university and is then consoled by another student. Surprise surprise, the co-student is an undercover recruiter and his boss blackmails the girl into becoming an agent (as a student she earned her money as a prostitute). She then has to get into sexual intercourse with a terrorist to find out about his plans to release Vx-Gas in Paris.

The second storyline is about a french guy that has to deal with drugs to finance his mothers apartment. He is caught and brought to prison. To avoid sexual intercourse with other inmates he is forced to join the local islamistic-group in prison and gets radicalized by them (some hugs, a bit of meat and some isolation do the job). He is picked by the terrorist to be the one to release the Vx-Gas in the metro of Paris. After some luggage swapping in some airports the girl stops the guy in the metro and the ending credits say: Since 2001 french intelligence could prevent 15 attacks in France.
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7/10
terror thriller a la americaine
dromasca6 February 2014
What is bluntly visible in this French film is the American look. Actually it is not only the look - the whole approach taken by the film starting with its story and I dare say with its ideology, going through the rapid pace and crisp editing style and ending with the style of acting is borrowed from the American 'war on terror' movies. We even have some kind of a French equivalent of the CIA headquarters in this film. The most amazing things is however that the combination works. Philippe Haim is a talented director and his 'Secret Defense' is a good American thriller even if it is acted in French.

Recruiting a young and sexy woman who finds herself in some kind of distress and turning her into a spy is a theme that we have already met in the classical Nikita, and original French film turned into an American movie and than successful TV series. The world of Secret Defense is however today's France and Middle East, and a parallel thread develops the background of an abused criminal who falls of dark side of the war on terror. The paths of the two characters are to meet inexorably, and we know it from almost from the beginning. The smart and unfortunately true idea of the script is that both the good girl and the bad guy are victims, paws, foot soldiers in war machines that confront each other and eventually crush everybody who falls under their wheels.

The story has logic and the development of the main character played by Vahina Giocante is credible and does not lack an unexpected dose of sensitivity. There is one moment only when the accumulation of coincidences seemed to me to be hard to believe, but otherwise the story line and the excellent acting, the exact rendering of the various environments and the pace of action built upon interleaved threads contribute all to the good quality of a film that has an American look, and this time I am writing this appreciation on its positive meaning.
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Particularly awful scene Question
a_fry19 October 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Does anyone know if the dog death scene was live (actual) footage of a dog being gassed or was that dog an amazing actor? I cannot find any information on this, and it was suggested in a previous comment that the dog death scene was actual terrorist footage. It would upset me to think that animal cruelty / the portrayal of terrorists performing animal cruelty is something that Canadian film distribution companies find it okay to support even if the film isn't made in Canada. The film centers on a very touchy subject, but that scene is not one I am going to forget easily. I found this just another example of horrific things accomplished by terrorists in the world, and replaying it whether in a film or on television just amplifies the effect they wish to portray to us "infidels".
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4/10
Pretensious but helpless
newjersian18 March 2015
French cinema is famous for its romantic comedies and melodramas. When French movie makers try to change the genre, it's usually resulted in a flop. Secret Defense is an example of that unsuccessful attempt to mimic an American action movie. The creators of that movie really tried to do it cool, but on every turn the movie becomes really laughable. Maybe an audience of school children can believe the plot which is absolutely primitive and false. And the actors... How could the director let Vahina Giocante be so hysterical while playing a role of a trained secret agent? Her eyes are always deceiving her, even in scenes in which there is no need to be worried. She always runs and moves chaotically, and her amateurish performance finally kills the movie, which anyway has a very weak plot. I would recommend watching that movie only on a deserted island while it's raining outside. In other circumstances do something more attractive.
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