Political Film Society - Behind Enemy Lines

PFS Film Review
Behind Enemy Lines


15 MinutesIn the midst of the Bosnian War, American naval aircraft in the Adriatic Sea were assigned by NATO command to conduct aerial surveillance of the combat while negotiations to end the conflict were in progress. On one such mission in 1995, a reconnaissance airplane was shot down, and the survivor of the crash, Lt. Scott O’Grady, subsisted on leaves for several days before being rescued. Behind Enemy Lines, directed by John Moore, very loosely attempts to recreate the drama of the incident in order to portray a sample of the horrors of the Bosnian War, with a tagline "In war there are some lines you should never cross." Sent on Christmas Day to photograph Bosnian Serbian movements, the F/A-18 Superhornet flown by Chris Burnett (played by Owen Wilson) and Stackhouse (played by Gabriel Macht) is shot down. Stackhouse is so injured that he is unable to move after landing by parachute, while Burnett radios his home base, the USS Carl Vinson, after reaching the ground to notify the ship’s commander, Admiral Reigart (played by Gene Hackman), of the status of the mission and the fact that Stackhouse has been executed by Serbian Bosnian forces. Reigart then makes arrangements to rescue Burnett, only to have his order countermanded by Admiral Piquet (played by Joaquim de Almeida), the French commander of NATO naval forces, who fears that the peace process will be aborted when Serbian Bosnian authorities realize that the United States has taken sides, with a possible loss of thousands of lives. Reigart must then inform Burnett that his orders are to make his way to a UN-declared safe haven at the city of Hach. Burnett then sets on the path, as ordered. However, the local Serbian Bosnian commander, Lokar (played by Olek Krupa), is secretly marching his troops to capture Hach; he orders two subordinates to hunt down the remaining American, whom he sees in the distance after Stackhouse is shot. Thereafter, Burnett encounters fierce weather and a mass grave of civilians before he bums a ride on a truck of a Croatian family bound for Hach. When the truck arrives, Serbian Bosnian forces are already there, fighting to seize the city before the peace agreement. Donning the uniform of a slain Serbian Bosnian soldier, Burnett escapes from the town, notifies home base of the latest developments, and Admiral Reigart assures him that he will be rescued. However, Serbian Bosnian propaganda claims that Burnett has been killed by renegade troops, and the rescue mission is called off for the second time. Burnett then returns to the site of the reconnaissance airplane, where he activates a transponder. When Admiral Reigart learns that the signal is being transmitted, he realizes that Burnett is still alive, so he decides to personally command an armed rescue mission, knowing that he is disobeying orders from above. When three armed helicopters arrive at the crash site to rescue Burnett, Serbian Bosnian forces are at the scene, so a shootout occurs in which American bullets hit targets but Bosnian artillery misses almost every target. Burnett is picked up, but only after he goes back to the crash site to pick up the magazine containing the photographic evidence. Titles at the end indicate that Admiral Reigart, to be reassigned to a desk job in Washington, decided instead to retire, whereas the photographic evidence was used to indict Serbian commander Lokar for war crimes. Clearly, Behind Enemy Lines dramatizes one of the most puzzling wars of the twentieth century by showing the depraved and cynical attitudes of Bosnian Serb troops. (The actual filming was in Slovakia.) Released three months ahead of schedule, the film may serve to discourage George W. Bush from withdrawing American troops as peacekeepers in Bosnia, since an end to peacekeeping may be a beginning to further barbarity. The Political Film Society, accordingly, has nominated Behind Enemy Lines for an award as best film exposé of 2001. MH

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