John Moore's BEHIND ENEMY LINES is a wonderfully patriotic picture about the
extraction of an American pilot shot down in a war zone in Bosnia. A very
timely movie, it features some of the best aerial combat footage ever filmed.
With just one plane and two missiles chasing it, Moore fashions an early
sequence that will take your breath away and put chills up and down your
In a career making role, Owen Wilson (SHANGHAI NOON) moves from a comedy to an
action hero as everyman Navy co-pilot Lieutenant Chris Burnett. Wilson's
wonderful work might be thought of as Jimmy Stewart channeling Bruce Willis.
The movie is a cat-and-mouse game as Burnett tries to elude capture by troops
wanting to kill him on the spot in order to cover up atrocities that he
accidentally filmed. Meanwhile, back on the aircraft carrier, Admiral Reigart
(Gene Hackman) tries his best to get a rescue mission out to find Burnett and
bring him back.
The retrieval mission is made nearly impossible by the political situation that
Reigart is forced to deal with. In order not to disturb the tenuous and
questionable peace on the ground, he keeps getting ordered and tricked into
abandoning the extraction attempt. Although Wilson's terrific performance
steals the show, Hackman does a masterful turn with a tricky role. When you
want him to ignore orders, he is forced to chafe silently under them. Several
times you get so involved in the story that you want desperately to yell out
suggestions, as well as cheer the successes.
Okay, so the movie isn't perfect. There are some times when suspension of
disbelief is required, but real war is messy and unpredictable, so what seems
unlikely to us could well happen on the ground. And, if you're the sort who
feels kind of uncomfortable with all the flags flying in your neighborhood, this
probably isn't the picture for you.
The high energy cinematography features heavy use of handhelds and jump cuts,
which are perfect for the combat sequences. The result is an exhilarating and
thoroughly satisfying motion picture that raise great questions: Under what
circumstances, if any, should we relinquish control of our military forces to
our so-called allies? Should we be involved in police actions in which our
objectives are unclear and our military responses highly limited? Is there ever
a time when we should be willing to let our soldiers languish on hostile ground
when we have the ability to pick them up? And should we ever let our political
objectives get in the way of our military tactics when American soldiers' lives
are risked in the process? For a country at war, these are all good questions
for us to ponder.
BEHIND ENEMY LINES runs 1:45. It is rated PG-13 for "war violence and some
language" and would be acceptable for kids around 12 and up.
My son Jeffrey, age 12, thought it was easily one of the best pictures of the
year and gave it ****. He liked the story, the cinematography and everything
Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes