We are so accustomed to seeing Owen Wilson playing light comedy roles that it was surprising to note that he can take on a dramatic role and do it justice. Beyond Enemy Lines had an all-male cast; there was no female waiting at home for Chris Burnett to finish his tour of duty.
The film is very loosely based on an incident in the final months of the Bosnian War in 1995 when an American pilot and navigator were shot down while on a reconnaissance mission.
The opening scenes allow the viewer to know that Lt. Chris Burnett (Owen Wilson) is bored with his military life of the past seven years and has handed in his resignation to Admiral Leslie Reigart (Gene Hackman) who wants Burnett to reconsider. Reigart then sends Burnett and Stackman on a holiday mission over Bosnia in their F16. They veer off course in a demilitarized zone and photograph an unusual sight which later proves to be mass graves. Their plane is spotted by Bosnian Serbs and is shot down. The two men parachute to safety.
While Burnett seeks higher ground in order to radio his commanding officer Reigart, Stackman, who has a serious leg injury, is discovered by the enemy and is executed on the spot. Burnett gives away his position as he gasps at the sight.
At this point, the action begins. Burnett is on the run, followed closely by his pursuers. This is a thriller of a movie, with a lot of suspense, hand-to-hand combat, surprises, gun play, and running. The main purpose of the pursuit is to prevent Burnett from releasing the photographs which prove that war crimes have been committed against civilians.
Back on the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson from which the F-16 was launched, Admiral Reigart plans a search and rescue mission for Lt. Burnett until the NATO naval commander, not an American, forbids it since they are in the final stages of the peace process. Admiral Reigart disobeyed the NATO officer’s command and joined the crew deployed to rescue Burnett.
This film was controversial since the Serbs felt it put them in a very bad light. Scott O’Grady complained that he had not given his permission to film his story, which he stated was filled with errors. Although the film received bad reviews, it had reasonable financial success. Released shortly after 9/11, it capitalized on the extensive patriotism that had proliferated in the country at that time.
Regardless of its flaws, I thoroughly enjoyed Behind Enemy Lines. It was helpful to receive an explanation in the final credits of the future lives of the main protagonists as well as the perpetrator of the war crimes.
Behind Enemy Lines (2001)