Behind Enemy Lines (2001): John Moore War Film

John Moore’s Behind Enemy Lines, which was released in November 2001, kicked off a new cycle of war films that so far has included: Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down, Gregory Hoblit’s Hart’s War, and Randall Wallace’s We Were Soldiers.

One can also add to the list the highly acclaimed TV series, HBO’s Band of Brothers, exec-produced by Tom Hanks and Spielberg, and recently honored with a Golden Globe. In June, MGM released John Woo’s The Windtalkers, which was pushed back from last year.

What’s interesting about these war films is that they were all greenlighted and produced long before the Sep. 11. terrorist attacks. Yet, that momentous event has inevitably colored the public’s emotional perception and commercial reception of these pictures.

Indeed, though tackling various wars (or military campaigns), and using different narrative strategies and visual styles, each of the war movies released was influenced in some ways by the zeitgeist of American society–and the entire world–in the Sep. 11 aftermath. Hence, it’s instructive to see which movies have succeeded or failed, and the specific reasons for their varied appeal. And it’s tempting to speculate about the contribution (if any) these works have made to the Hollywood war movie, one of the most uniquely American genres.

Arguably, the weakest of the bunch was Behind Enemy Lines, an unabashedly patriotic flag-waver that was nominally set in the tumultuous Bosnian war, but, structured as an actioner, could have taken place anywhere. The film offered a solid, different role to Owen Wilson, better known as a comedian, as Lt. Burnett, a fighter jet navigator, itching for action in combat. But once the conflict’s basic and simplistic parameters were established, the saga unfolds as a series of chases and escapes.

Despite mixed to negative reviews, benefiting from the first war film to be released, Behind Enemy Lines grossed close to $60 million in the U.S. alone.