Films

Bloody, and bloodier

A Canuck fights with cunning; Hollywood warriors haul out the firepower

Brian D. Johnson December 10 2001
Films

Bloody, and bloodier

A Canuck fights with cunning; Hollywood warriors haul out the firepower

Brian D. Johnson December 10 2001

Bloody, and bloodier

Films

BRIAN D. JOHNSON

A Canuck fights with cunning; Hollywood warriors haul out the firepower

Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about how Canadians really aren’t all that different from Americans, especially now that we share a continent of grief. But when you see a blockbuster like Behind Enemy Lines, followed in rapid succession by a Canadian film called Treed Murray, you begin to wonder. Behind Enemy Lines takes place in and around Bosnia, with an arsenal that includes F/A-18 fighter jets, helicopters, tanks and enough small arms to put the Taliban back in business. Treed Murray unfolds in a city park. The weapon count: a knife, a revolver and some rocks.

Lumping these two feature debuts together may be unfair, like comparing apples and atom bombs. But each is a thriller about a terrified man surrounded by a ruthless gang. And what’s interesting is not just the difference in scale, but in message. The Hollywood movie is about a primal conflict between good and evil— a blood sport in which saving one American life is worth killing a horde of foreigners. Treed Murray is about a blood sport that no one wins, and in which good and evil are inextricably mixed.

The press kit for Behind Enemy Lines says the movie takes place “the day after to-

morrow,” but it feels more like the day before yesterday. Chris (Owen Wilson) is a U.S. Navy top gun who’s frustrated because some silly peace negotiations in Bosnia are preventing him from flying into combat. He’s itching for war. And he gets his wish when he’s shot down during a reconnaissance mission. Chris spends the rest of the movie being hunted by an army of Serbs, and by one especially villainous sniper. Meanwhile, back on the aircraft carrier, his crusty superior, Admiral Reigart (Gene Hackman) vows to rescue him, but is thwarted by a foreign NATO commander who’s afraid of upsetting peace negotiations.

It’s uncanny how Hollywood formulas fly in formation. The previous week’s big release was Spy Game, which also depicts war as a kind of father-son rite of passage—another wily veteran tries to rescue a young hothead from foreign soil while his superiors want to sacrifice him on the altar of geopolitics. But Behind Enemy Lines is more of a pure action movie. In the opening scene, Chris uses the carrier’s catapult to launch a football: this is war as sports. Galloping through a storm of bullets, Chris could be just another blond running back breaking tackles.

After all the grainy video and stock footage from CNN, it’s a thrill to watch spectacular scenes of an F/A-18 trying to deke out a surface-to-air missile. Irish filmmaker John Moore, whose TV commercials include an award-winning Sega spot, shoots war as a live-action video game. But the message from the ideological sponsor is deafening. Hollywood studio heads recently agreed to make movies that would support Americas war effort. Behind Enemy Lines shows they can already do this kind of thing in their sleep.

I A very different picture of conflict resoi lution, Treed Murray is a spare but grip? ping drama about an ad executive named Murray (David Hewlett) who encounters a 14-year-old mugger in a city park. After taking a swipe at the kid, Murray is chased by a gang until he finally takes refuge in the branches of a large tree. A long standoff begins. And as the five teens lay siege, Murray uses his cunning to divide and conquer, pitting them against each other.

Toronto writer-director William Phillips deftly breaks down stereotypes, showing the executive to be just as amoral as the gang members. And although the drama occasionally slips into melodramatic overdrive, he keeps the tension taut. Hewlett ( Traders) creates a complex portrait of an ad executive with a taste for prostitutes and crack cocaine. And as Shark, the black gang leader, Clé Bennett conveys a quiet power yet avoids the cliché of the noble savage. Treed Murray is an ingenious, al fresco version of the low-budget, highconcept movie about six characters in a room. Despite the outdoor setting, it has the feel of a play, and might work even better onstage: at the movies, we tend to want more visual stimulus than a man in a tree can provide. Unfortunately, the Hollywood war machine asks us to make the ultimate sacrifice—our intelligence. ESI