The Best Action Movies Of 2022, Ranked

It’s no coincidence that the titular banlieue in Romain Gavras’ “Athena” shares a name with the goddess of warfare. As the scene for a protest that spirals into an all-out civil war, Athena feels at once like post-modern battlefield and the stage for a Greek tragedy. While modern filmmaking marvels pulsate throughout the film, “Athena” invokes classicism in every frame. Gavras seems to be saying that violence is timeless, corruption is inevitable, oppression is cyclical — though his script (co-written with Ladj Ly and Elias Belkeddar) don’t do quite enough to flesh out those ideas.

The story of “Athena” is a painfully familiar one: If you love “La Haine,” Ly’s own “Les Miserables,” or are even vaguely aware of their real-world influences, you’ll recognize the stakes of the story instantly. “Athena” might be counting on that familiarity to carry audiences through its broad narrative strokes, to get us to instantly connect with the young boy who was recently killed by the police, and the three brothers — each on opposite sides of the law — he leaves behind. There is Abdel (Dali Benssalah), a decorated soldier desperate to keep the peace. And then there’s Karim (Sami Slimane), whose penchant for Molotov cocktails turns the cold war with the cops into something much more difficult to ignore.

There’s been a lot of chatter about the film’s opening scene: Karim’s assault on a police precinct, backed by hundreds of boys from Athena, is executed in one flawless, “continuous” shot — and yeah, it’s exactly as breathtaking as everyone says it is. “Athena” plays loosely with the one-take conceit, making for some brilliant sensory experiences, and some of the best action of the year.

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