Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Behind Enemy Lines – “Die Hard” in Bosnia

Written by Jim Thomas, John Thomas, and David Veloz
Directed by John Moore

At the time this movie was released, there seemed to be someone around Hollywood who had gotten it in his or her head that Owen Wilson is a fantastic actor who is capable of being the next Paul Newman or maybe a Tom Cruise knock-off. Whoever that person is, I think they were wrong. Wilson might be fine in certain roles, but I don’t think he has what it takes for the more intense roles.

In Behind Enemy Lines Wilson portrays Chris Burnett, a pilot/navigator for the Navy flying over Bosnia during the conflict there. While flying reconnaissance he and his pilot, Stackhouse (portrayed by Gabriel Macht) get lost and end up in the wrong place, seeing something they were not supposed to see. They end up shot down and Stackhouse is executed by the men who shot them down.

Burnett is now on the run and being pursued. Although he can make contact with his commanding officer, Admiral Reigart (portrayed by Gene Hackman), Reigart cannot send out forces to rescue Burnett due to his position and the current cease-fire.

There are a whole host of reasons why I found Behind Enemy Lines less than satisfying. The biggest is a common complaint I have with action films, but which seemed to be present here even worse than usual. I get so tired of movies where the protagonist seems to exist in a bullet-proof bubble. You can have 50 guys shooting machine guns at him and they miss every time, while he gets off one shot and… kills a baddie!

Owen Wilson is adequate in the role. Part of the problem is the script. He’s not happy in the Navy. He wants to resign. Wilson just doesn’t seem to have the heart in the set-up pieces, it’s like he wants to get to the “fun” part of the script. I found his whole performance to be a sort of “look at me, I can do serious” type of role.

Gene Hackman is a good actor doing his best with the typical material in this role. His character is, unfortunately, very one-dimensional and I don’t blame him for it. He does the best he can with it, but there are really no surprises in how he acts during the movie or what the result will be. He deserves better.

This is one of those films that could be almost set anywhere. The protagonist is being relentlessly pursued by an evil assassin for some reason. Toss in the I love America and America is wonderful and it’s other countries that screw us up mentality and you’ve pretty much got the motivation behind this film. The only thing that shocked me about that was that this was filmed before 9/11 and released just after it, so it couldn’t have been riding on the coattails of that newfound patriotism.

The script also seems pretentious in that it wants to be considered a serious film, but it’s really just another action flick. Setting a movie in a war-torn country and intermingling action sequences and the predictable dialogue with a serious subject and some horrific images of atrocities that were committed over there is something I do not approve of. The tagline for this film is there are some lines you should never cross… and I think Hollywood does cross a line with this film. This is no Blackhawk Down. This is an action film that sets itself against the backdrop of a horrific human massacre and attempts to recreate the results of it. The only redeeming quality to this is that if it humanizes the conflicts around the world for just a few people, perhaps then it is worth the exploitation I feel happens.

The soundtrack tries too hard. The songs are played very loudly in an attempt to create an atmosphere of how cool the film is. Burnett is a cool guy. All the pilots are cool guys. They listen to cool music. Enough already! The special effects try to be dramatic, such as the impact of the seats in the snow on the ground which is one I liked. However, the whole movie just left a bitter taste in my mouth.

If you like Owen Wilson, then maybe you will like this. If your mantra is The USA – love it or leave it!, then it might suit you as well because it feeds that need some people have to believe everything this country does is perfect. For the rest of us folks, I wouldn’t recommend it. Behind Enemy Lines is not one of those films that I would leave on if I came across it on cable, and that is the line I tread when I decide to recommend something or not.


• Behind the Scenes Featurette
• Extended and Deleted Scenes
• Pre-Vis Ejection Sequence
• Minority Report Trailer
• Feature Commentary with Director John Moor and Editor Paul Martin Smith
• Feature Commentary with Producers John Davis and Wyck Godfrey

6 replies »

  1. As you know, war/military-themed films are a favorite genre of mine. When I was a kid, it was my favorite genre, bar none, but I eventually acquired a more varied taste.

    I’ve watched “Behind Enemy Lines” (in bits and pieces) on cable. From what I know, this is a dumbed-down, exaggerated, and fictionalized take on a real-life event (the shootdown and rescue of Air Force F-16 pilot Capt. Scott O’Grady over Bosnia in 1995), deeply steeped in Hollywood cliches and jingoism on steroids. The plot is thin, depends too greatly on suspension of disbelief, and, as you say, Owen Wilson is not Tom Hanks, Harrison Ford. or even Tom Cruise.

    I’ve never owned a home media version of “Behind Enemy Lines” or any of its three sequels, and I never will.

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