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:: Behind Enemy Lines

Given the current unprecedented levels of patriotism in America and its anti-terror coalition partners, “Behind Enemy Lines” is perfectly tuned to instil further pride about Americans in battle. It is certainly a must see for capturing the human spirit at its best when all that around it is trying to destroy it. The film has an old-fashioned, heart-beating rescue mission theme and is well filmed by first-time feature director John Moore, who masters the action sequences and bleakness of the physical landscape.

The grand presence of Gene Hackman catapults the essence of a story with a familiar formula. He plays Admiral Leslie Reigart, the Commanding Officer in the NATO peacekeeping force in Bosnia. He believes in the principals of looking after his men. One of them is Navy pilot Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson), a person with a strong will and attitude. He thinks he has been kept from doing his proper job and needs motivation. He gets on Reigart’s nerves, which forces the Admiral to send him and his flying partner on a Christmas Day reconnaissance mission. Burnett and his pilot Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht) veer off course to check something suspicious in a demilitarised zone. Serbian forces have been busy committing atrocities and Burnett wants to check things out.

But their plane is shot down after violating a treaty with the Serbs. Because of Burnett’s decision, an F/A-18 superhornet jet is lost. His co-pilot is executed on the ground, and Burnett is trapped. The Serbians chase him because they obviously want to retrieve any incriminating evidence held against their actions. He must struggle to survive from a ruthless Serbian military leader Lokar (Olek Krupa), a deadly tracker (Vladimir Maskov), and countless hostile troops. Meanwhile, Admiral Reigart is frustrated because some people fear that any rescue attempt for his man may interfere with delicate peace negotiations. Another NATO Admiral Piquet (Joaquim de Almeida) points out that one man’s life may have to be traded for thousands later on. This doesn’t sit well with Reigart, who wants to bring his man home. Piquet is then seen as a villain of sorts; standing in the way of a righteous mission. Burnett, in radio communication, manages to achieve an affectionate bond with his crusty old Admiral while on the run, at the same time engineering some miraculous escapes. With time running out, Reigart must make a decision in following his heart or following orders.

The idea of this film will keep attention from start to finish despite a slightly shallow script, and it has the acting to achieve it. Owen Wilson was a shrewd choice to play the film’s protagonist. He brings an everyman quality to the role, as he is not a Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger in stature. He carries the leading part well – brave, resourceful, and cynical. He presents himself as the classic American hero. Gene Hackman, the consummate actor, lends a hard-nosed dignity to the part of Admiral Reigart. He has outstanding presence (as he did in Crimson Tide), and is always a great anchor. Good supporting roles come from Olek Krupa and Vladimir Maskov. They are suitably nasty villains.

While the film’s premise is familiar, John Moore executes the direction well to keep a good pace and makes it effective for the duration. It certainly is a film for all Americans to confirm the national pride. Despite some scenes being a little incredulous, and some over-the-top patriotism, the empathy felt for Burnett and Reigart makes “Behind Enemy Lines” an enjoyable film.

Screening on general release