behind enemy lines(2001)
director: john moore
gene hackman, owen wilson, david keith, olek krupa

. There’s a scene in Behind Enemy Lines where a soldier is blown off his feet, in slow motion, by a booby-trap mine. His body slowly bends in the middle as if some enormous paw had just sideswiped him, tossing the man aside like a bag of twigs. It’s the kind of shot that makes you marvel -- the things they can do in movies these days! Only later will you -- perhaps -- consider precisely what you’ve seen.

If Behind Enemy Lines doesn’t pick up a nomination for cinematography at this year’s Oscars, you’ll know that the members of the Academy simply weren’t paying attention. If it gets a nomination for anything else, you’ll know they can be bought.

Set during the last days of the civil war in Bosnia, the film sets out to explore the frustration of fighting men like the navy aviator played by Owen Wilson and the admiral who commands his aircraft carrier group, played with much stoicism but little inspiration by Gene Hackman. The young man is eager for action; action that he’ll never see as long as armies are peacekeepers and the world’s most powerful military force is hamstrung by insipid leadership from politically-motivated NATO brass. Wilson is about to tender his resignation from the forces when he’s shot down by Serbian units going about their sinister business of ethnic cleansing despite a peace treaty.

You’ll know you’ve entered territory once owned by John Wayne when Hackman -- a two-star admiral -- grows a backbone, defies the NATO wimps, and personally pilots one of the choppers that set out to rescue Wilson.

Director John Moore and his cinematographer Brendan Galvin have a marvellous feel for the cold beauty and precision of military hardware, and they shoot the film in hard, clinical light, with the sharp cuts, frantic, probing camera angles, and elastic timeplay that dissects battle into vertigo-inducing reveries. Unfortunately, Moore isn't really interested in human motivation that surpasses the complexity of a recruiting ad.