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Behind Enemy Lines

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2001 1 Jan
Behind Enemy Lines
from Film Forum, 12/06/01

Even as U.S. pilots are on active duty in dangerous territory, Owen Wilson is on the big screen this week playing a pilot who gets shot down in Behind Enemy Lines. He ends up dodging bullets in Bosnia while his superior officer, played by Gene Hackman, decides not to leave a good man behind.

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) remarks that director John Moore's stylish action scenes "certainly do get our attention. But they don't lead us to anything more worthwhile. Explosions for explosions' sake don't seem to hold the same fascination they once might have."

Likewise, Douglas Downs (Christian Spotlight on the Movies) sums it up: "Lots of action, but no substance."

Bob Smithouser (Focus on the Family) calls it fare for "adrenaline junkies who lack the attention span required for a cerebral thriller like Spy Game." He adds that this "chaotic testosterone-fest" seems "all the more juvenile in light of current events. It all makes Top Gun seem downright poignant."

The critic at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops goes easier on the film: "Moore pumps up a simple premise with skillfully choreographed action scenes, depicting the brutality of war while attempting to comment on the importance of saving even one life despite the risks."

Meanwhile, Movieguide's Tom Snyder, who describes the movie as "a white-hot, action-oriented war movie," is upset that this movie, set in the center of the Serbian-Bosnian conflict, portrays "ultra-war violence" and a "significant amount of foul language." He declares, "There is no sane reason why any movie, even one for older audiences, has to include any foul language at all."

Focusing on the story, Ed Crumley (Preview) testifies that "the gung ho, can-do attitude of the rescue team members, who volunteer to risk their lives to save one man, is inspiring." But he too disparages the film for "foul language, violence, and gore."

Family-minded critic Holly McClure was impressed with "a unique visual style that sets it apart from other war films." She likes Wilson—"a hero the audience can relate to"—and decides that "the timing for this movie couldn't have been more perfect. A movie about an 'unconventional war' … can't help but play on patriotic emotions."

World's Andrew Coffin notes the arrival of Behind Enemy Lines and remarks on just how many combat-oriented films are coming to theatres and capitalizing on the publicity of recent news events.

He criticizes Hollywood's current crop of military-themed movies for not having "the benefit of a post-Sept. 11 perspective. … [They are] scripted with an inherent distrust of government intelligence and military institutions. What was once standard Hollywood issue now seems strangely anachronistic in a time when public confidence in government institutions and America's armed forces is high."

Clearly, mainstream media critics are also sensitive to sensationalized violence. Roger Ebert writes, "Its hero is so reckless and its villains so incompetent that it's a showdown between a man begging to be shot, and an enemy that can't hit the side of a Bosnian barn. This is not the story of a fugitive trying to sneak through enemy terrain and be rescued, but of a movie character magically transported from one photo opportunity to another." He mentions that the movie premiered on a U.S. aircraft carrier, and muses, "I wonder if it played as a comedy."

Stephanie Zacharek of Salon writes that director John Moore fills the film with "lots of snappy, meaningless cutting, just to show us he knows how to do it. Behind Enemy Lines is a rÉsumÉ masquerading as a movie." She finds it almost criminal the way the movie ignores its talented cast. "He's a director who'll never let acting get in the way of his filmmaking. If you're going to bother to use good actors at all, you should at least let them be all that they can be."