Behind Enemy Lines
In 1995, June 8th a young US Air Force Captain Scott O'Grady was rescued after spending a week in the hills of Bosnia-Herzegovina. While on NATO patrol over the Balkans few days before, O'Grady's F-16 had been shot down by a Bosnian Serb anti-aircraft missile. O'Grady spent hours remaining motionless while paramilitary patrols scoured the hills for him, sometimes passing within a few feet of him. He survived by drinking rainwater and eating insects after his rations ran out. A rescue operation was launched after confirmation of his position and he was picked up safely. Behind Enemy Lines is based on the book 'Return With Honour' which O'Grady later wrote, but the film deviates from actual events very quickly.
Owen Wilson sheds his wacky characterisations for a more realistic portrayal of Chris Burnett, the movies' version of O'Grady. Burnett is your typical hotshot military types, always at loggerheads with his Commanding Officer, Admiral Leslie Reigart, played by the ever-reliable Gene Hackman. During Christmas Day, Burnett and his partner, Michael Stackhouse (played by Gabriel Macht), are sent on a routine reconnaissance mission over the Balkan war zone. They notice some paramilitary forces digging mass graves (part of the Bosnian Muslims 'ethnic cleansing') and decide to take some photographs. Before they know what's happened, two surface-to-air missiles have been launched at them and destroys their F-16. Both men manage to bail out and parachute down. While Burnett seeks higher ground to try to get a better radio transmission, Stackhouse is captured and executed by Bosnian Serb paramilitaries, leaving Burnett running for his life.
The movie then switches between Burnett trying to evade his captors and Admiral Reigart's frustration, as he is not allowed to go get his man back in case the incident damages the delicate fabric of the signed peace treaty. Reigart is forced to bow to his superiors' commands and despite best efforts in demanding a rescue mission is ordered to do nothing.
How long can Reigart wait before taking matters into his own hands? And how can he achieve this without any support from above? Meanwhile Burnett is constantly on the run, surviving many near-encounters with the paramilitary forces, especially with their ruthless renegade Serb sniper/assassin known only as Tracker (Vladimir Mashkov). Can he make it to a safe zone and more importantly will there be anyone there to rescue him?
Behind Enemy Lines is the directorial debut of John Moore, whose previous experiences have been directing commercials. Unfortunately he falls into a novices' trap of using almost every action film cliché, some to good effect some not. Moore utilises film techniques to accentuate the on-screen action, most 'paying homage' to other films (Note: there is a very fine line between paying homage and blatant theft, and Moore doesn't pay homage). The inter-cutting of freeze frames to emphasis critical events, and a very cool scene showing a slow-motion mine explosion are amongst the ones that work well. However the handheld camera shots, (ala Saving Private Ryan) while Burnett is running complete with drawn breathing, are far too nauseating and jittery - it's unimpressive and disjarring. The technique is totally misappropriate and badly filmed. Speaking of Saving Private Ryan, Moore pays 'homage' also with the muted-deafness-after-an-explosion technique. Plus the fast-paced action doesn't allow for any character development and results in extremely cartoonish one-dimensional villains.
There are some very silly aspects, including Burnett's amazing ability to out-run explosions, the Tracker's high powered and obviously un-calibrated rifle (for the best sniper in Bosnia, he can't hit a thing!), the ridiculous gung-ho Americanisms, the fact that the entire paramilitary forces cannot hit one running man (even with their tanks and hundreds of troops firing at Burnett they just cannot hit him- even while he's running AT them!) and less said about the over the top ending the better.
BUT even with the huge faults with the directions and script, the film works on a purely entertainment level - you really need to leave your brain at the door and just sit back and enjoy it. The effects and tension during the missile chase in the F-16 is extremely well done and is probably the high-light of the film. Gene Hackman is dependant and solid as always, but his role is reduced to brief gruff orders and moral attacks on the powers that be. He has played this particular role many times before and even in the Burnett role in Bat 21. Wilson establishes his action hero persona, but adds a little humour at the beginning very reminiscent of previous characters he has played. It is hard to see him in a 'Rambo' role though.
The film feels rushed and it has been to be frank. Behind Enemy Lines was one of Fox's highest rated screen tests in the distributors history. In all honesty after September the 11th, any film which is pro-American was bound to do well, and as a result the film was brought forward quite a few months to take advantage of the patriotic surge in the USA, hence the rushed feel. It has also been dubbed as a propaganda move to help recruitment for the US military, but take that as you feel.
While Scott O'Grady's ordeal was probably no where near as over-the-top as shown here, Behind Enemy Lines has enough entertaining aspects to be cloud-pleasing - even with all its flaws in logic and the surmountable clichés. The key to this film is:DO NOT TAKE IT SERIOUSLY JUST ENJOY IT!!
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