Behind Enemy Lines (2001) / Action-War

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and language            
Running Time: 106 min.

Cast: Owen Wilson, Gene Hackman, Gabriel Macht, Charles Malik Whitfield, Joaquim de Almeida, David Keith
Director:  John Moore
Screenplay: David Veloz, Zak Penn

Review published November 27, 2003

Behind Enemy Lines 2001More Rambo than Saving Private Ryan, Behind Enemy Lines hearkens back to the war flicks of the Eighties, with its highly patriotic tone, its glamorization of the fight, and the resolve and diligence of the one-man Army, or in this case, Naval pilot.   What's probably the most controversial thing about this film is the casting of comic actor Owen Wilson, not only untested in a physical war flick before, but probably unthinkable in that role.  I won't go so far as to say he does a commendable job, because he is a definite liability, but at least he doesn't ruin it.

Wilson plays a Naval flight navigator called Burnett, stationed on an aircraft carrier somewhere near the Serb-Croatian conflict.  He's tired of the routine non-combat nature of the assignment, and wants out after seven years of service.  He hands his letter of resignation to Admiral Reigert (Gene Hackman), who agrees to hold onto the letter for two weeks, in case he changes his mind.  Burnett and his pilot, Stackhouse, are given the unpopular assignment of a Holiday recon mission, but through a mishap they end up getting shot down by the enemy.  Stackhouse is summarily assassinated before Burnett's eyes by the local army, and soon finds himself on the run for his life with the hardened soldiers in hot pursuit.  Reigert desperately wants to save his man, but the Nato commander assigned to the area thinks it too politically risky, and denies the attempt.

As long as you aren't looking for anything more than a thrilling action flick, Behind Enemy Lines consistently delivers what you seek.  Even if it does tend to get too over the top for its own good, the action pieces are shot well, with good pacing by first-time director John Moore.  Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the well-shot film is the outstanding cinematography by Brendan Galvin, who makes every shot feel as crisp and real as if we are amid the action.  The main story isn't much, and some of the characters seem a bit cartoonish, but as threadbare as it is, you can't say it slows down the action.

If you want an intelligent war film, forget it.  This is pure Hollywood entertainment all of the way.  Along those lines, it's a definite thrill ride, with just enough good moments of drama and action to cover up the film's considerable flaws.

Qwipster's rating:

2003 Vince Leo