Gene Hackman and Owen Wilson in Behind Enemy Lines (2001)


(director: John Moore; screenwriters: David Veloz/Zak Penn/ based on a story by James Thomas and John Thomas; cinematographer: Brendan Galvin; editor: Paul Martin Smith; music: Don Davis; cast: Owen Wilson (Lt. Chris Burnett), Gene Hackman (Admiral Reigart), Gabriel Macht (Stackhouse), Charles Malik Whitfield (Rodway), Joaquim de Almeida (Piquet), David Keith (Tom O’Malley), Olek Krupa (Lokar), Vladimir Maskov (Sasha); Runtime: 93; 20th Century Fox; 2001)

“A flag-waving film experience that fits the present war times in America after the events of September 11.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An exciting action rescue war film; a flag-waving film experience that fits the present war times in America after the events of September 11. It’s an explosive, well-crafted, fast-paced, special effect film. It has two very good performances — one by Owen Wilson, as the ‘everyman’ and the other by Gene Hackman, as the patriotic veteran exuding dignity. It also has excellent photography of an F-18 shot down by a surface-to-air missile and the navy men parachuting to snow-covered enemy terrain. The film is very loosely based on the real incident of an Air Force pilot in 1995, Lt. Scott O’Grady, who was shot down in the same enemy territory and was later rescued by American forces. But this rescue effort is all Hollywood fantasy, as similarities end here.

It is John Moore’s first feature film as a director, being a former maker of TV commercials, and it’s from a screenplay by David Veloz and Zak Penn. It serves the war effort well, though it at times pushes forth a robotic story and manufactures excitement through unneeded melodrama. But it is a well-conceived atmospheric war-is-hell film, that meets its aims of giving the viewer a feel for the war and the behind the scenes politics of the war.

An American Navy pilot and his mischievously playful flight navigator, Stackhouse (Macht) and Burnett (Wilson), are given a punishment assignment by the admiral on Christmas Eve because Burnett’s resignation from the Navy over his boredom after seven years service angers him. On this mission they are shot down over enemy Bosnian territory while taking routine reconnaissance photos in an area that was de-militarized. They notice some unusual activity there, and choose to further investigate even though it is off-limits. As a result of being downed they are ruthlessly pursued by a secret police enforcer (Maskov) and the opposing renegade troops commanded by a war criminal (Krupa), who want them dead to cover up photo evidence of a mass grave and other war crimes. Meanwhile Burnett’s commanding officer, the battle group commander for the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, Admiral Reigart (Hackman), has his hands tied by his NATO commanding officer, Admiral Piquet (Almeida), who says a rescue attempt would break the treaty worked out in Dayton.

Not wishing to lose his command Reigart, at first, follows orders and follows Burnett’s movement on a warroom computer screen, as the navigator tries to get to a safe zone to be rescued.

In the end the younger and the older military man show they are made of the same independent-minded spirit that makes America great, as they both do what they think they must honorably do and defy authority. The story is predictable, but it remained suspenseful throughout.

The film questions the following: putting Americans under foreign command, that America has become the world’s policeman, and how can you tell the good guys from the bad guys in conflicts that have gone on for ages in countries we are not familiar with. All fair questions for a film that does its propaganda job in an entertaining way, and clearly states that it is better to disobey a wrong order than to blindly do one’s duty.


REVIEWED ON 12/8/2001 GRADE: B –