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Behind Enemy Lines

The civil war that ruptured the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s may have offered little of interest to the average American, who would need a scorecard to comprehend the politics behind it anyway. But at least one story captured the national imagination — the downing of USAF Capt. Scott O'Grady, whose F-16 was shot down over western Bosnia on June 2, 1995. The American brass thought there was a good chance O'Grady was dead or had been captured, but six days later — after consistently eluding hostile pursuers — he made radio contact and was airlifted to safety. Behind Enemy Lines (2001) utilizes O'Grady's story for its own appealing premise, although it is not a re-creation of that event by any means. Owen Wilson stars as Navy Lt. Chris Burnett, a naval navigator assigned to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson in the Mediterranean. However, Burnett has grown jaded about his military career, and he has put in for a transfer to the group commander, Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman). But when a photo-reconnaissance mission gets Burnett shot down over Bosnia, he finds himself on the run from Bosnian Serb troops. After making contact, Reigart plans to mount a rescue — only to learn that it would violate a fragile treaty, meaning Burnett must cross a good chunk of dangerous territory on foot before he can be extracted. Helmed by first-time director John Moore (who got the attention of the film's producers from his TV commercial work), Behind Enemy Lines plays like a conventional Hollywood action film, but with a few unconventional twists. Foremost among these is the casting of the magnificent Owen Wilson, who manages to bring his Everyman nature, offbeat comic timing, and Texas accent to a part that would have gone to a less-smart, more-muscled actor in any other movie (and it's always tempting to try to guess just which lines Wilson improvised on his own). As Admiral Reigart, Gene Hackman (God bless him) almost literally phones in his performance, but only a handful of mature American movie stars would be welcome in the commanding officer role (and Wilson and Hackman would both co-star in Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums just after wrapping this movie). With location shooting done in central Europe (Slovakia standing in for Bosnia) and aboard two U.S. aircraft carriers, the picture is filled with a number of impressive settings. And director Moore, despite his freshman status, manages to deliver a highly stylized film that is just as interested in unusual editing techniques as pyrotechnics — the surface-to-air missile and ejection sequence in particular is a great bit of pulse-pounding fun. Fox's Behind Enemy Lines DVD features a strong anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with audio in DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby 2.0 Surround, as well as English subtitles. Features include a commentary with director John Moore and editor Paul Martin, a second track with producers John Davis and Wyck Godfrey, an early construction of the ejection sequence, six extended/deleted scenes with commentary, a behind-the-scenes featurette (6 min.), and a trailer for Minority Report. Keep-case.
—JJB



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