Opens Fri Nov 30
It is difficult to believe that this latest installment of American war movies was scripted before September 11. Even though Behind Enemy Lines' trigger-happy Serbs are postdated as enemies, the movie's underlying themes about U.S. foreign policy could not be more aligned with America's current rah-rah patriotism, and once again, we look to Gene Hackman for guidance.
Flying a routine Christmas Eve recon mission, a Navy F-14 Tomcat is downed by Serbs trying to cover up their military maneuvers in the DMZ. Once on the ground, Owen Wilson (Zoolander, The Haunting) finds himself on the business end of a heart-racing pursuit from snipers, tanks, and troops. With bucolic pastures and birch-lined hillsides whipping by, it's like Rambo has been let loose in The Blair Witch Project.
Although the hide-and-seek bullet-dodging and mortal combat are captivating (if not predicable), the true meaning of Behind Enemy Lines is buried in its underlying questions about U.S. foreign policy--and, ultimately, the undeniable answers. As the commander of the USS Carl Vinson, Hackman is caught between his chain-of-NATO-command and his red, white, and blue consciousness. After the death of Army Rangers in Somalia precipitated the withdrawal of troops in Northern Africa , Hackman's moral dilemma is truly American: Are American lives really worth more than the lives of foreigners, and what sacrifices do we want to make for world peace?
Representing the overly cautious wheels of diplomacy, NATO comes to represent part of the problem--if not the enemy. Halfway through the movie, the French NATO commander confronts Hackman: "All Americans care about is one downed pilot." At this point, empathy for Wilson has progressed far enough that only the most hard-boiled egg wouldn't answer: Hell, yeah! We love Gene Hackman. Save Owen Wilson! And, Frenchy-boy, you and NATO can ride back out on that French fry you flew in on.
Behind Enemy Lines is not heady; it is a visceral reaction, a need to see good defeat evil. September 11 gave Hollywood back the missing element of its war movie equations: a clear and present enemy. Although this film was produced before the terrorist attacks, look to it for the coordinates of movies yet to come.