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Movie Review

Behind Enemy Lines

MPAA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPAA) for war violence and some language.

Reviewed by: Douglas Downs

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teen to Adult
1 hr. 46 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
November 30, 2001 (wide)
Relevant Issues
Owen Wilson in “Behind Enemy Lines”
Featuring: Owen Wilson, Gene Hackman, David Keith, Gabriel Macht, Olek Krupa
Director: John Moore
Producer: John Davis
Distributor: 20th Century Fox

The date was June 2, 1995. Captain Scott O’Grady’s F-16 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile south of the Bosnian city of Banja Luka. He evaded capture by Bosnian Serb forces for six days before his rescue June 8 by a Marine Corps search-and-rescue team. He was the hero that helped make Americans proud of the teamwork that exists in the military. Captain O’Grady demonstrated great training and survived tremendous odds by avoiding capture. I still can remember listening to his story of the extremes that he went through to hide in a hostile environment. He was an inspiration to many.

Gene Hackman in “Behind Enemy Lines” It is his story that has inspired the film “Behind Enemy Lines”. There is however a huge difference between Capt. O’Grady and Lieutenant Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson). I imagine that 2Oth Century Fox is hoping that we will overlook the obvious, skip the comparisons, and just simply check our brain at the door. This was just plain silly and remarkably brainless—even by Hollywood standards, helping to give a new definition to the phrase “the dumbing down of America.” Studios should have focused more on the plot and less on trying to beat “Black Hawk Down” to the theaters. Director John Moore includes lots of action, but no substance. Don Davis’ score and Brendan Galvin’s cinematography added really nothing to this over-hyped flic.

Lieutenant Burnett is a flight navigator on the U.S.S. Carl Vinson. They are currently on patrol in the Adriatic Sea during the peace talks in Bosnia. In the first few minutes we learn that our poor 7-year veteran has become bored and wants to resign. He has turned in his letter of resignation to Admiral Leslie Reigart (Gene Hackman). Reigart offers to keep his letter for a week and encourages Burnett to reconsider. To help overcome his boredom, Burnett and his pilot Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht) are sent out on a reconnaissance mission. They veer off course and deliberately go into the demilitarized zone when something unusual shows up on their radar. They get shot down and begin the process of avoiding capture and exposing the Serb’s secrets. It almost seems like from that point on that Burnett is in “Pierce Brosnia” instead of Bosnia. Almost any episode from TV’s “JAG” will give you a better story. The film mocked military preparedness more than it seeks to inspire a modicum of patriotism.

Here’s a testimony to some of this film’s silliness: Lt. Burnett walks around after he is shot down trying to find his friend by yelling for him. Stackhouse is injured and Burnett leaves him in an open field while he goes to radio for help. Burnett, after first exposed by the enemy, can outrun machine gun and tank fire. They show our hero sliding down a very dangerous concrete slab, but they never show him reaching the bottom. He runs out onto a highway during hot pursuit and is picked up by a truck playing American music. There is more, but I will conclude with the end of the film. After Burnett is rescued and he climbs into the helicopter, the enemy stops shooting. How polite.

There is no sex in “Behind Enemy Lines,” and the violence is mostly staged. There are two scenes that are extreme and the PG-13 rating should be observed. The f-word is used twice and there is a sprinkling of profanity. It is not a bad film from the aspect of objectionable content. But it does feel like a cheap war movie. Hollywood needs to learn to not always play to the MTV audience.

My recommendation is to skip this film on the big screen. If you’ve really got to see it, wait till the video/DVD release. it’s truly mindless entertainment. I’d prefer old Roadrunner and Coyote antics to Wilson being chased through Bosnia.

Viewer Comments
Comments below:
Positive—This is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. If you like action and war drama this is a must for you. If you look past the language and violence nothing is wrong with this movie. Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman both show their best in this film.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 5]
Travis, age 18
Positive—Everyone knows Owen Wilson can write. Everyone knows he can do comedy. But now everyone’s learning he can do drama. Wow. Sure, it’s got its share of cliches, but it did keep me entertained. I only wish characters other than Burnett would have been developed. That was my only complaint. I loved the two kinds of filming—sweeping and elegant for the emotional scenes, violent and jumpy for the tense ones. Very interesting stuff.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 3½]
Donna, age 19
Positive—American war stories inevitably seem to tell the same stories. Only differently. And so it’s not too strange that the fairly enjoyable film, Behind Enemy Lines, is a little like Spy Game, Enemies at the Gate, Saving Private Ryan and well… every American war movie you’ve ever seen. All our favorite national themes are there: Treaties are never good and bind our hands morally and strategically (This is probably a hang-over from the Vietnam era when we lost the war because well, “they” didn’t want us to win.) Another theme: our guys are over there and we are going to bring them home even though one American life is worth three thousand non-American lives. Another theme: American soldiers are macho types who often need a war to realize how important America’s place is in the world. Well, you get the idea. The film is full of cliches. But hey, they’re our cliches. Sure we know Chris will be able to continually dodge the bullets (several times) of an entire army. Christians might find themselves pondering the two armies. Sure we know that there are two kinds of soldiers: the committed foreign bad guys who smoke an awful lot and drive Mitsubishi UV’s… and the confused-about-to-grow-up-real-fast disillusioned American kid who is clean-cut and well, blonde. But it does make one ponder spiritual preparedness.

Chris (Interesting name, that) finds the routines of army life boring and meaningless. Commander Reigart tells him that these boring routines are meant to become second-nature to him. They will save his life in the future. Some Christian soldiers might find certain spiritual practices:prayer, fasting, Bible—reading boring. But in any army—spiritual or otherwise—one never knows when one might be called up to move onward into enemy territory.

Then all that practice will suddenly be seen as quite meaningful after all. Hey, I liked this movie. I was even touched. But I’m from another generation: I think I would’ve been even more touched if our hero had well …come to a bad end. it’s the Christian in me, I guess. Many battles of our spiritual warfare don’t seem to be glorious. I’m thinking of Hebrews chapter 11, the cloud of witness.

To the purely physical eye that cannot see the kingdom of God, Jesus seemed to have lost on the cross. But we know better. Not that I want sad endings… but all these happy endings don’t strike me as spiritually true. And I wonder about a Christian nation trained by its movies to believe that everything ends positively. There was one truly snide crack about John Denver’s aircraft death which was in bad taste.

All in all, a fun but predictable movie with some suspense.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4]
Carole McDonnell, age 41
Positive—This movie was actually pretty interesting. The worst part about it was probably the blood and the cursing. You got to know the main characters and experience what they were suffering and feeling. There really wasn’t a dull moment. The hero accomplished his goal in great peril and didn’t just forget all that he had witnessed with his own eyes.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4]
Jackie, age 29
Positive—If you like an edge of the seat, adrenaline loaded movie this is it. There was some language that I wish they had left out, but there was no nudity and this was straight action all the way. This is not for people who get sick seeing blood and killing on the screen. This is a very realistic portrayal of the genocide and war time conditions that people lived with during the Bosnian war. It shows a lot more detail then I think was needed, but it leaves you feeling like you have been in a war. THIS IS NOT FOR CHILDREN. I would rate it PG-17 not PG-13 or even R—a lot of violence portrayed.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
Lyle Tyler, age 49
Neutral—I enjoyed this movie. Though the plot was weak and predictable, this was more than made up for with the beautiful and tragic imagery that is throughout the film. Certain moments of the film certainly opened my eyes to the horror of war. There is a lot of language and violence, and granted this is not the most intelligent war movie ever made, but overall it was a good film and I enjoyed it.
My Ratings: [Average / 4]
Lori, age 21
Neutral—…this movie should have definitely been rated R. Way too much language and a lot of very strong sadistic violence…
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 2½]
Matt, age 21
Negative—Perhaps more noticable than the poor acting was the near constant use of God’s name in vain. Ten times, to be precise. It seemed to be the hero’s response to everything. Within three or four minutes I knew this was poorly done and hurried out to capitalize on a growing national pride. I expected much more. I don’t see the Navy recruiters office filling up because of this one!
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 2]
Dave Faulkner, age 41
Negative—I was very disappointed in this movie. I like Gene Hackman in most of his films, and he did an OK job here. What really turned me off completely was the directing style. I thought the music was terrible and the camera work was inappropriate. The super slo-mo and fast forwards and constant circling made it very hard for me to care about the (thin) plot or the characters. The characters were underdeveloped. I would have liked this movie a lot more with a different director.
My Ratings: [Average / 1]
Louis, age 40
Negative—I agree with the reviewer in comparing this to a roadrunner cartoon where the hero is ridiculously fast and the enemy is ridiculously inept. I went in expecting something inspiring and true-to-life, like an “Enemy At The Gates” or “Saving Private Ryan.” Instead I got Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. Disappointing. My recommendation: skip this movie and save your money for “Black Hawk Down.”
My Ratings: [Average / 1½]
Timothy Blaisdell, age 37
Comments from young people
Positive—I really enjoyed this movie. I have to see a movie every two weeks for my school’s newspaper (Calvary Chapel High School) review and I was a little disappointed at first that this was the only movie out in theaters that was half decent, but when I saw it I was totally blown away. It kept me at the edge of my seat the entire time and I was really in to the story line also. I cannot wait to give this one a good review in my article. I do have one critique though, I cannot stand it when they use all this bad language. They could have done much better without it. Well, you get what you pay for right?
My Ratings: [3½]
Teresa Kintz, age 15
Neutral—This was really an awesome movie. I really liked it. It was almost a Pearl Harbor, but without the love stuff. I always like the love stuff in movies, but it was about time they make an action/war movie without it. Plus, it had a lot of jump sense, which really caught me off guard, which was really good. And according to the end of the movie, its based on a true story, so that makes it better. But there was one problem I absolutely was disgusted about… the language. It wasn’t bad, but it said the Lord’s name in vain at least 5 times. It ruined the movie for me. But if it weren’t for that, it would be a perfect movie.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 4½]
Kelly, age 15
Negative—This film does not have that much blood and gore but it is very unbelievable. The hero does things no human could survive through. The movie may have some good special effects; however, this does not make up for inadequacies of the plot.
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 2]
Scott, age 16
Positive—Behind Enemy Lines was the best movie I’ve seen since Pearl Harbor. This high action film had no nudity, but it does contain moderate profanity and violence (2 F-Words). Throughout most of the movie you stay “jumpy” because of the dangers. The movie starts out slow, it’s basically introducing the characters and scene for the first 20 minutes. …The camera views in this movie are very unique. I’ve never seen a movie shot in this type of form. It was very exciting. There is only one part in the beginning that looks extremely fake, yet funny. This is a must see film. don’t hesitate! The movie theater atmosphere adds to the excitement. See this one before Spy Game. The plot is a thousand times better than that!
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 5]
Tyler, age 15
Positive—I absolutely loved this movie. …I personally did not want to see it (because I personally don’t like war movies), but I am so happy I did! It was worth my 7 bucks! It made me feel more patriotic and more respective towards the Army, Marines, etc., and I am totally rating this movie EXCELLENT!…
My Ratings: [5]
Julie Erin Ann Marie O’Sullivan, age 16
Positive—A very good movie, should have been rated R for the violence and language. But, I still think it’s one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.
My Ratings: [4]
Nick Hays, age 15
Positive—It was scary, I jumped a couple of times. I also closed my eyes cause the camera was shaky.
My Ratings: [Average / 3]
Ariel Hays, age 15
Positive—This movie was amazing! This was one of the best, if not the best movie I have ever seen in my life. The acting is amazing, and the special effects are superb. The story was well thought through and, very realistic as far as Hollywood goes. The only problem I have is one thing that Hollywood hyped up as usual: the bullets always miss him. He has an army of soldiers behind him and he never gets shot. Besides that fact the movie is VERY realistic and breathtaking. From a Christian perspective, it isn’t too great. There is no sex or nudity, but a LOT of uses of the GD phrase and a couple of F-words, with other cuss words mixed in. Besides that, there is a good deal of violence, but the violence is a war-type violence and isn’t too severe, just the occasional person getting hit by a bullet. There is one seen where it shows someone shooting a man, right in the head, but besides that, it’s mainly just bullets whizzing by type stuff. Besides the use of the Lord’s name in vain, this was an EXCELLENT movie. I recommend you not pass this movie up.
My Ratings: [Average / 5]
Michael, age 14
Positive—The movie had a very good story, and I was very surprised that it had that little language for a war movie…
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 2½]
Ashley, age 12
Movie Critics
…inspiring… foul language, violence, and gore occur in a military context…
Preview Family Movie and TV Review
No sex or nudity. “…2 F-words… 15 religious profanities or exclamations…[and other crude language]…