Behind Enemy Lines

| December 2, 2001

The United States has become a cop on the beat for many situations around the globe. We use our military forces in ways that are not strictly how a country would use its forces. Behind Enemy Lines begins at the end of a long stretch of “peacekeeping” between all of the different factions in Bosnia. Our military folk are down because they don’t feel they are making enough of a difference. On the very last day, an F-18 is flying a routine reconnaissance mission and takes a detour into an area that is closed to NATO flyovers and are shot down by an Eastern European army (we’re never sure exactly which one) that does not want our pilots to share what they have seen. What did they see? Oh, nothing. Only the burial of hundreds of victims of a genocide attack by the same Eastern European army. All this on the verge of what is supposed to be the beginning of a cease-fire leading to a “peace” agreement.
The pilot and navigator of the jet eject. The pilot breaks his leg and his navigator goes to radio their ship only to see the pilot surrounded by the enemy troops and executed. Evidently, they want the photographs that the pair were taking on their flyover. The navigator’s attempt at escape and the political intrigue and hand tying which prevents the admiral of the attack group from going to get their downed man are all spun together to give us a wonderful action film that will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Owen Wilson plays Lt. Burnett, the downed navigator. He has given 7 years to the Navy and has decided to get out. This will be his last mission. As a dramatic and action effort, he is excellent. Wilson’s previous leading parts have been mostly humorous. He had the lead in Shanghai Noon, and humorous characters in Zoolander and Armageddon. With Behind Enemy Lines, he takes a large step and does a great job.
The admiral is Gene Hackman (Admiral Leslie Reigart), one of my favorite actors. I like everything I see (which is why I am not looking forward to The Royal Tenenbaums) from the recent Heartbreakers, Heist and Enemy of the State, back to Hoosiers, and his cameo in Young Frankenstein. Behind Enemy Lines is almost a remake of his 1988 film Bat*21 with him moving from the part of the downed flyer to the role of the rescuer from the base. When you see him, you know he is going to be a hero who comes to a sad end.
The best bad guy in the film is Vladimir Mashkov who is a popular Russian actor anddirector. In addition to appearing in almost twenty Russian films, he had small roles in three American films Dancing at the Blue Iguana, 15 Minutes and American Rhapsody. He was excellent as Sasha, the man assigned to track down Lt. Burnett.
Behind Enemy Lines was directed by a first timer: John Moore. Wow. If this is his first effort on the big screen, I can only imagine what his home movies are like. He makes excellent use of hand-held and fixed cameras. He gives you some up close and slow motion and stop motion and clipped motion shots that constantly keep you interested. A huge BRAVO to Mr. Moore. Earlier this year I did a review of Kill Me Later where I said the director wanted to show off all his new toys and said it did not work. This is one of those cases where a director used all the tricks available to him in the best possible ways. Kudos to his editor Paul Martin Smith (Star Wars Episode 1) for an excellent job.
I can also give applause to the brother team writers Jim and John Thomas (Wild Wild West, Mission 2 Mars), Zak Penn (Last American Hero) and David Veloz (Natural Born Killers) for providing a good story. But that is what it is. A story only remotely based on a real event. I have to get one thing out of the way: The event that sets it up is way out of line. A US Navy pilot flying a routine reconnaissance mission is not going to deviate from his assigned course. Unless under attack, this is the kind of thing that can get you out of the Navy and into flying freight for UPS in a real big hurry. These guys are so well trained that they are not going to disobey an order like that.
I am also concerned that this movie was PG-13. There are some definite graphic shots and language so you might want to check this one out before taking the little ones.
OK… That’s off my chest. Stop reading this review and get on line to find out where Behind Enemy Lines is playing and go see some great popcorn and Coke entertainment.

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