Action picture features patriotic zeal

Grade: B+

John Moore's "Behind Enemy Lines" is a wonderfully patriotic film about the retrieval of an American pilot shot down in a war zone in Bosnia. Very timely in its release, the film features some of the best aerial combat footage ever filmed. With just one plane and two missiles chasing it, Moore fashions an early sequence that will take your breath away and put chills up and down your spine.

Owen Wilson is likable, no matter what the role. As a charming, self-effacing action hero, he's positively first-rate. Wilson stars as Lt. Chris Burnett, a hotshot Navy flight navigator who's fed up with reconnaissance missions that are nothing more than useless joyrides at the expense of the U.S. taxpayer. Admiral Leslie Reigart (Gene Hackman), disgusted by Burnett's cynical attitude, sends him up on a routine Christmas Day mission to teach him a lesson in humility.

The fly-by may be routine but Burnett and co-pilot Lt. Michael Stackhouse (Gabriel Macht) go rogue and take some incriminating digital photographs over southern Bosnia. When the Serbians take the plane down it is destroyed, but the pair manage to eject at the last moment landing smack in the middle of enemy territory.

Suddenly it's cat-and-mouse, with the intrepid Burnett struggling to survive the relentless pursuit of hostile Eastern European rebels and a ruthless secret police agent (Vladimir Mashkov).

Meanwhile, Reigart, hands tied as he cools his heels on an aircraft carrier, butts heads with NATO brass over a regulatory rescue operation as tension levels escalate.

It's a bumpy road to Bosnia. Hyper-cool digital footage works in stark contrast to the straight-laced heavily cliched atmosphere of the carrier. Burnett eludes his captors with stealth and brains, all modest under fire.

Missile sequence is terrific - a frightening rip-roaringly realistic look at the calamitous destruction of a $40 million fighter jet. Serb, Coat and Muslim soldiers jumble together into a threatening, nameless mass, but the fear is overt.

Hackman is not at his best as the stoic commander caught in the middle, but Wilson manages to carry the whole project on his handsome shoulders with self-depreciating humor and patriotic aplomb.

The high energy cinematography features heavy use of handhelds and jump cuts, which are perfect for the combat sequences. The result is an exhilarating and satisfying motion picture that raises some important questions.

Such as under what circumstances, if any, should we as a country relinquish control of our military forces to our so-called allies? Should we be involved in police actions in which our objectives are unclear and out military response highly limited?

Is there ever a time when we should be willing to let our soldiers languish on hostile ground when we have the ability to pick them up? And should we ever let our political objectives get in the way of our military tactics when American soldiers' lives are at risk in the process. For a country at war these are all good questions to ponder.

It's not a moment too soon to celebrate on on-screen U.S. victory.


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