Behind Enemy Lines by Jim Thomas
There are some worthwhile aspects about this motion picture, but it nevertheless fails to satisfy audiences or critics, in spite of some laudable goals, the presence of the legendary winner of two Academy Awards – one for the French Connection, the other for Unforgiven – Gene Hackman.
In the leading role, we have a much younger, talented actor, in a role that seems to be against his profile, for we are much more familiar with the comedy roles that Owen Wilson has been more visible in comedies.
Furthermore, Behind Enemy Lines, Owen Wilson has a haircut that is the one adopted in the military, not the freer, loose, long hair look that is recognizable…he even seems to be missing the usual manner of speaking, parodied by some other actors, including Bradley Cooper.
Chris Burnett is a fighter navigator that seems early on, from the very first few scenes, to suggest a rather incredible profile for a military man, with his clever comments about moving out to fly in the commercial aviation, but especially when he confronts his superior, commanding officer Reigert aka the formidable Gene Hackman.
When he talks with Stackhouse, the hero mentions that Bill Gates is richer than Peru, he would be better off flying rock stars that need good flying personnel – by the way, the other day we could see Mick Jaeger in Russia, for the World Cup semifinals, presumably flown in by good pilots.
The under signed has had the chance, while working for the low paying AT&T, to get on American war ships and found that the phenomenon of pilots moving from the Air Force to the commercial lines is quite widespread.
Chris Burnett has a confrontation with commanding officer Reigert that seems more than improbable and melodramatic, reminding audiences though of Top Gun and other Rebel Hero movies in the same vein.
The protagonist and his comrade are flying in the Bosnian Theater of operations, trying to impose an internationally sanctioned peace effort, while keeping out of conflict and avoiding certain areas.
However, they see some illegal activity, fly by to observe better, inform the base, and suggest some potential action, when they are attacked not by one, but two powerful – probably Soviet made – missiles.
The plane is hit, the two men have to eject, once on the ground, Stackhouse is severely injured, so his companion decides to ascend a hill where he would contact the command for a possible, speedy extraction.
Alas, the enemy arrives on the scene with lighting speed, led by two vicious individuals who make the public think of Radovan Karadzic and other war criminals involved in the former Yugoslavia war.
It is commendable that the writers, director, producers involved in this project try to highlight the plight of the innocent victims that have killed in that bloody conflict, with poignant, gruesome, horrible scenes that show mass murders, the killing of civilians, children, women and old people.
Indeed, at one moment in his flight, Chris Burnett is taking cover in what is a mass grave, hiding under copses, while the hunting party tries to find him in the swamp in the woods where dead bodies have been dumped.
The vicious militia speaks with the injured Stackhouse for a few minutes, press his wounded leg torturing him and quickly decide to execute the young man, under the eyes of his companion, who is hiding nearby in the forest.
Hearing his cry of terror and sorrow when they kill his pilot, the apparently Serbian forces start firing with machine guns, artillery all around the fugitive, who miraculously escapes all the shrapnel, bullets, artillery fire landing all over.
In addition, this is not happening just this once, for the next episode, and the ones after that follow the same guidelines, well known from Rambo and such action hero movies with similar plot.
It could well be based on one or a few true stories; surely, there are unbelievable exploits – Hacksaw Ridge comes to mind – that happened under enemy fire, in real live action on various fronts.
There is an example given by William Goldman – another winner of two Oscars, only this time they were for writing – author of the archetypal Adventures in the Screen Trade, wherein he explains how that Trade works, screenplays actors, directors, the myth of the “author film” and so much more- if you are interested in cinema, this is the book to read.
Actually, there are two situations – in the first he invites the reader to imagine a film with a plot where the hero – played by Paul Newman say – climbs the wall of the castle, walks around, travels the corridors and finally enters the bedroom of the very well-guarded heroine, who in this case has not one guard or attendant near her or all along the path to her room…even if we would not believe something like that can happen, it did, with…The Queen of Great Britain.
The second example refers to a real operation that took place in World War II, which was so incredible as to make it next to impossible to include it in the script for A Bridge Too Far, on which the author has worked with the astounding Richard Attenborough.