Behind Enemy Lines (15)

Review by Jack Foley

THERE are two films struggling to emerge from the wreckage of the movie that is Behind Enemy Lines - the one which depicts the truth about what happened in Kosovo and the one which will appeal to the masses' current lust for gung-ho wartime heroics. Sadly, it is the latter which wins through.

Inspired by the story of Scott O'Grady, an F-16 pilot shot down over Bosnia in June 1995, the movie sets itself up as a serious commentary on the events which occurred during those tense six days (flitting between the pilot and those who would try to save him) but succumbs to showy histrionics and pro-US tub-thumping which seems strangely out of keeping with world events, post September 11.

And the most ironic thing to emerge from the resulting mess is that the true version of events would have been so much more compelling - and, indeed, pertinent - than the flashy alternative version we have been left with.

Twenty-nine-year-old O'Grady, in real life, survived on his wits for six days, by hiding in the daytime and moving at night. He was forced to eat ants, grass and grubs and, for something to drink, squeezed the water from his socks. His rescue involved 40 planes and helicopters and, upon his return to the US, he was hailed a hero and paraded around the country as an example of the bravery of US Fighter pilots. Bill Clinton even stood next to him and dubbed him "one amazing kid".

The only person who failed to get caught up in the hysteria, ironically, was O'Grady himself. God only knows, then, what he thinks of the movie.

For starters, the events have been jettisoned six months, to Christmas, allowing for some suitably snowy terrains in war-torn Kosovo. The O'Grady character, re-named Lieut. Chris Burnett and played by Owen Wilson, is a flight navigator shot down after discovering some mass graves and heavy artillery while deviating from his flight schedule. His pilot is killed by the Serbs and he is forced to go on the run, playing a cat and mouse game with a crack Serbian marksman and half the Serbian army.

Needless to say, at the start of the movie, Burnett is a typically precocious pilot, desperate for some action, who is set to turn his back on the military after pleading with his superiors to 'give me a fight I can understand'. When he returns, he is a changed man and a more complete soldier with something important to say about the Kosovo crisis.

Guiding him through the survival course is his superior, Admiral Leslie Reigart (played by Gene Hackman), whose decision to put man before politics places him at odds with his superiors. The question is posed, therefore, is the life of one man worth more than the peace process and Reigart's own career. You can probably guess the answer.

But while Irish-born commercial director John Moore could have taken the time to investigate such arguments, and gain some understanding of the Kosovan issue and America's involvement in it, he opts instead to go for the heroics, cranking up the volume at every opportunity (one battle scene, in particular, comes complete with a big beat soundtrack) and dumbing down the proceedings.

Hence, what we have left is the type of movie in which Rambo joins with Top Gun and attempts to sign up for Saving Private Ryan. That is to say, a complete mess. Battle junkies will no doubt delight in the splendid aerial sequences, the slow-mo bombs which let off spectacular carnage, and the groan-inducing flag-waving as Hackman finally 'does the right thing' and goes in to save the day, but in a world still numb from the effects of September 11, the makers really should feel ashamed.

It is to Wilson's credit that he emerges from the proceedings relatively unscathed (he remains likeable and watchable throughout), while Hackman seems to be on auto-pilot but is no less engaging, even though he did the whole thing much better in the far superior Bat-21 a few years back.

But taken as a whole, this really should have been a great deal better.