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Behind Enemy Lines

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Behind Enemy Lines

Starring: Owen Wilson, Gene Hackman
Director: John Moore
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: November 2001
Genres: Action, Suspense, War


*Also starring: David Keith, Gabriel Macht, Eyal Podell, Travis Fine, Elizabeth Perry, Joaquim De Almeida



Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

There's a myth floating around among America's enemies that our country's cannot tolerate the loss of life among our fighting men and women. There is more than an element of truth here. When eighteen men on an aid mission to Somalia were killed and dragged through the streets behind a vehicle, our president ended the mission. When 241 marines were killed in Lebanon in a terrorist attack, our mission pretty much ended there. Two movies that opened within nine days of each other emphasize the reluctance that Americans have to risk lives in zones of hostility. Tony Scott's "Spy Game" plays with the story of a single American caught trying to rescue a prisoner in China and scheduled to be executed the following day. He is treated as a life so valuable that a brouhaha developed within the C.I.A. on whether to risk abandoning important international trade talks to save this one, otherwise ordinary fellow. John Moore's "Behind Enemy Lines" illustrates the extent to which a shipload of naval officers and enlisted men go all-out to rescue a fighter pilot, an undisciplined fellow at that, who flouts orders to enter a zone barred to NATO forces by a treaty.

The action takes place in Bosnia-Herzogovina (actually filmed in Slovakia) and deals with a mission taken by NATO forces, possibly led by the U.S., to protect the lives of Muslims who are threatened by the Serb countrymen--who are engaged in the policy of ethnic cleansing. In developing the principal characters, John Moore, using a story by James and John Thomas ("Predator") and the ultra-patriotic dialogue of scripters Zak Penn and David Veloz, presents the young and brash pilot Burnett (Owen Wilson) as a seven-year veteran frustrated with having nothing to do aboard a carrier while his commanding officer, Reigart (Gene Hackman), plays by the rules and in an opening scene gives the young lieutenant a dressing-down for carrying on mischievous behavior on board the vessel. Assigned a routine reconnaissance mission with his buddy Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht), he courts danger by flying a forty-million dollar jet across hostile territory, an excursion banned by a treaty, where the pilots are shot down. A renegade Serb commander, Lokar (Olek Krupa), determined to get the treaty scrapped, sends a vicious tracker (Vladimir Mashkov) to find the downed Americans. The major segment of the drama deals with the race between the Serb forces to find the hapless pilot, and the Americans led by Admiral Reigart--who himself violates an order by his own superior, Piquet (Joaquim de Almeida). As stated earlier, "Behind Enemy Lines" and "Spy Game" have a common theme--the attempt by high officials in the U.S. government to save a man who is in trouble in a foreign land. While "Behind Enemy Lines" cannot hold a candle to Tony Scott's picture for incisive dialogue and sharp characterization, John Moore's excels as pure, adrenaline-driven action. Photographer Brendan Galvin makes excellent use of Slovakia's awesome Carpathian mountain ranges, several hours from that country's capital city of Bratislava, to illustrate a cat-and-mouse pursuit between a relentless group of renegades and a single American serviceman who had finally enmeshed himself in the danger he has sought. With battle scenes to rival some in Oliver Stone's "Apocalypse Now," Galvin brings to life news items from the recent past about the massacre of Muslim civilians by racist Serbs, providing some penetrating shots of buildings blown to smithereens as poor and terrified Muslims bemoan their fate-- living in a multiethnic society with no background of Jeffersonian toleration.

Though this is "Spy-Games"-light, the picture could serve as effective propaganda in our own times, as President Bush tries eagerly to convince the world that U.N. forces in Afghanistan are not making war on Islam but on terrorists--who are themselves killing their fellow Muslims. The movie indirectly snubs Osama bin Laden, who does his utmost to cover up America's role in protecting Bosnian Muslims. "Behind Enemy Lines," a flag- waving piece of effective propaganda which gives Owen Wilson his first major and entirely successful serious role, is, as some would say, just the holiday ticket to perk up American spirits as we continue to recoil from the tragedy of September 11.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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