The American war machine marches on and good ol' Gene's back in the commanding seat. But things aren't that clear-cut this time round.
The movie is set in the bitter and confusing war in Bosnia. Chris Burnett (Wilson) is a naval aircraft navigator aboard the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, part of NATO's forces in the region. Tired of reconnaissance missions and desperate for some action, he's formed some strong views about the whole political situation. Unfortunately for him, these views are in direct contrast to those of the captain, Admiral Reigart. Burnett seeks to resign but Reigart forces him to stay on for a few weeks. Then, Burnett and his pilot are sent out on a photo reconnaissance mission on Christmas Day in their F/A-18. What should have been a routine job suddenly turns deadly when they come across soldiers in a demilitarised zone and a mass gravesite.
After taking a few photos, they're on their way back when a missile is sent out after them. This is one of the best scenes of the movie - the two missiles tracking this ultra hi-tech jet, which tries everything to get away from them. But eventually, the plane is downed and the pilot injured. While Burnett goes off to get some help, the renegade soldiers, led by Serb Commander Lokar, reach the injured man and shoot him. Or rather, Lokar's silent marksman does. They then discover that Burnett is alive and they set out after him.
Meanwhile, Reigart has discovered that his boys are down and are in enemy territory. When Burnett gets through to him, he assembles a rescue team and is all set to head off. Which is when NATO Commander, Admiral Piquet ove-rides his authority and asks him to do nothing, for fear of destabilising the entire peace process. Reigart has to make the bitter decision to tell Burnett that he can't be picked up behind enemy lines but he will instead have to make his way to safe territory. Which is not such an easy thing to do, what with the Serb army looking for him and the tenacious marksman hunting him down. Things get down to a tense climax, with the whole movie strewn with guns, bombs and beacons.
The movie tries to get out of the rut of jingoistic fervour of most American war flicks, but only succeeds to a certain extent. There are some severe indictments of American smugness here - but not enough by any means. The "shattered" camera sequences (with slow motion, jerky effects) are great, but then the director puts in too many of them, which affects the visual standard of the film. The political scenario could have done with a lot more explaining, because the movie just assumes everybody's been following CNN.
I had a serious case of Bollywood deja vu, what with the lack of attention to detail. Like the fact that a trained soldier runs crazily through the woods, instead of pacing himself. And how about tanks firing and missing at three humongous helicopters, yet the same helicopters manage to pick off scattered infantry with ease.
There's not much point in talking about actor performances in a war flick and there's even less here. Audiences have come to expect a lot from Gene Hackman after his performance in "Crimson Tide", but here his boredom shows through clearly. He shows none of the fire, the frustration or the devil-may-care attitude which his character has potential for. Owen Wilson tries to inject some humour and break away from the macho-man-can-defeat-anything mould, but he doesn't do a great job of it (not that he needs to, since everyone else is hamming miserably). And please, can we not be so jingoistically American? In fact, the best performance is put in by the guy who speaks the least - the Serb assassin, who manages to display a quirky sense of humour in places.
Worth a look-see, if only for the action sequences.This article was first published on 12 Feb 2002.