Neil Young’s Film Lounge – Behind Enemy Lines



USA 2001
director : John Moore
script : David Veloz, Zak Penn
cinematography : Brendan Galvin
editing : Paul Martin Smith
music : Don Davis
lead actors : Owen Wilson, Gene Hackman
with : Vladimir Mashkov, Olek Krupa, Gabriel Macht, Joaquim de Almeida, David Keith
106 minutes

Cheerfully knuckleheaded flagwaver, an unlikely vehicle for Wilson who curbs his usual irreverence as navy pilot Burnett, shot down over hostile territory in the dog days of the Balkan conflict. Political considerations prevent his c.o. Admiral Riegert (Hackman) sending out a rescue mission, so our hero must make his own way to the nearest safe haven. Barring his way: inhospitable terrain and a Serb militia headed by warlord Lokar (Krupa), who sends a relentless, nameless tracker (Mashkov) in search of his Yankee prey

Behind Enemy Lines starts off strong the shooting down of the US jet is a thunderous masterclass in high-adrenaline film editing but, like Burnett, soon comes down to earth with a bang. Director Moore gets increasingly carried away with fancy visual effects the more he tries to show off, the more derivative, gimmicky and cliched the results. The script is equally devoid of fresh ideas, narrowing to the point where Burnett finally squares off against the cartoon-villainous tracker on a precarious frozen lake. Surprisingly, the ice doesn’t crack rare restraint in a movie that otherwise takes every chance to revel in shameless corn. And while some of the set-pieces are poundingly effective Burnett has to sprint through a deserted, booby-trapped factory yard that turns into a chaotic corridor of crossfire they can’t compensate for the films distractingly lame-brained politics.

The Balkan conflict was, of course, a famously confusing affair in which the good guys one moment suddenly became our worst enemies the next. But just because a political situation isn’t starkly black and white, that’s no excuse for the fuzziness displayed here (in a typical bad-script giveaway, Veloz and Penn rely heavily on subtitles to tell us who’s who, wheres where and whats what). Hackman fumes and rants, hands tied by European colleagues who, of course, have no idea how to run a war. Though NATO top-brass Piquet (de Almeida) briefly (but persuasively) exposes the weakness of Riegerts America-first mindset, the film pays such views only the minimum of lip-service: when push come to shove, the Americans opt for their preferred lone-wolf tactics. There isn’t even time, were blithely told in an aside, to even inform NATO of their actions: You say the word, and well saddle up, barks a Marine. And what is Riegerts first instruction from the rescue chopper cockpit? Were gonna make a hard right!

Meanwhile, Burnett just-so-happens to meet a bunch of friendly locals who just can’t get enough of US culture: Coke-swilling, teenage fans of Ice Cube; an older bloke dressed like an Elvis impersonator, blasting The King out of his trucks stereo. The films soundtrack also plays its part, moody instrumentals alternating with a faux-Balkan choir (from the Hollywood Film Chorale) and standard militaristic bombast until Burnett reaches safety, and the reassuringly down-home strains of Ryan Adams Rescue Blues blast out over the end titles These aren’t exactly subtle touches and nor is the repeated, in-your-face product placement for Sky News: exactly what youd expect from Rupert Murdochs Fox Studio. Its these dodgy ideological touches that makes it impossible to dismiss the movie as popcorn-oriented nonsense especially since its release (like that of Black Hawk Down) was brought forward to cash in on Afghanistan events. Its depressingly easy to imagine the US military arranging a special showing at Kabuls Bhagram air base: if so, lets hope somebody had the guts to smuggle in Three Kings as well.

17th January, 2002
(seen Jan-9-02, UGC Boldon, Sunderland)

by Neil Young