Saving Pilot Wilson
Behind Enemy Lines
Review by Ross Anthony

Just the image of Gene Hackman alone commands respect and admiration. And I've been impressed with Owen Wilson each time I've seen him, from "Bottlerocket" to "Shanghai Noon" to "Zoolander." So perhaps it was my own mistake that I went into this screening with high drama expectations.

In an early scene, Admiral Reigart (Hackman), commander of an aircraft carrier feels complemented after being called "an uncomplicated man." (The first clue that this film was not what I wanted it to be.) Fortunately, Owen Wilson as Lt. Burnett (jet navigator) flies his satiric babble over the first twenty minutes. Such a daring casting move impressed me and admittedly, works well toward what the film is trying to do: put a soft-bellied thinking soldier into harm's way behind enemy lines. Unfortunately, the tasty morsel of drama (good ol' boy vs. liberal minded hot shot) between Reigart and Burnett lasts only a single minute to make way for the action.

On a routine recon mission, Burnett takes his pilot and a 40 million-dollar jet off course, photographing portions of the Bosnian conflict. The unhappy military subjects of those photos are so displeased with their exposure that they shoot down Burnett's plane. I must say, some of this sequence, the jet desperately dodging two ground-to-air missiles, absolutely rocks! It's simply electrifying. And so are many of the combat scenes that follow. However, along with some perfect CG work, some very poor (albeit forgivable) images slip in. Still, few could criticize this film for its action sequences.

Once Burnett is behind enemy lines (which is pretty early on), the only goal is for him to find a way out. Reigart (being uncomplicated) just wants to go in and rescue his boy, despite warnings that such an action could disrupt the peace process and cause thousands of additional deaths. Wilson had it right earlier on, "It's crazy tryin' to explain what we're doing here, we're helping different people than we helped last week." In fact, the movie takes no strides toward explaining the actual conflict, making enemies out of whoever shot down a US plane even though that US plane was out of bounds. Some images of genocide are tossed in, seemingly to give the US a greater right to open fire. Overall, the Americans are portrayed as being zealously willing to risk hundreds of foreign lives to rescue just one of their own (out of a situation that arose from their own mistake).

But I digress. If you adjust your expectations, and go into the film ready to watch one guy (Wilson) dodge about a bizillion projectiles and explosives and come out unscathed ... you'll have a better time than I.

  • Behind Enemy Lines. Copyright © 2001. Rated PG-13.
  • Starring Owen Wilson, Gene Hacman, Gabriel Macht, Charles Malik Whitfield, Joaquim De Almeida.
  • Directed by John Moore.
  • Written by Davide Veloz and Zak Penn.
  • Story by James Thomas & John Thomas.
  • Produced by John Davis at 20th Century Fox.


Copyright © 2001. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:18:57 PDT