“Hyena Road” is a Canadian movie starring, written by, and directed by Paul Gross (“Passchendaele”). It attempts to highlight Canada’s role in Afghanistan. It was partly filmed in Jordan. Gross added some footage he filmed in Afghanistan. It is based on the fact that there is a road in Taliban territory called “Hyena Road”. Some of the incidents in the movie are based on things that happened during the construction of the road. The movie got a very limited release in America. It is available on Netflix Instant.
The action takes place in Kandahar Province. A squad led by Warrant Officer Ryan Sanders (Rossif Sutherland) is surveilling the road. Their sniper kills an IED planter. On exfil, they trip an IED via a sniper round which causes the Taliban to come boiling out like ants. The swarming is similar to in “Lone Survivor”. They take refuge in a Pashtun village. An elder offers them refuge in his home. He convinces the Taliban to allow them to leave. Fizzle. It turns out the elder is the famous “Ghost” who had made a reputation for battling the Soviets. When they get back to camp, the intelligence officer Capt. Mitchell (Gross) figures out who the elder is and wants to meet him. He’s “like a Rommel or a Patton”, he says with a straight face. Acting! He would make a good ally. Meanwhile a romantic arc begins with Sanders and his girlfriend Capt. Jennifer Bowman (Christine Horne). Mitchell, Sanders, and Bowman go back to the village to find the Ghost, but end up on the run under fire. Oh well, “you piss with the dick you got” proclaims Mitchell in a line I plan to add to my repertoire. From here the movie gets complicated as the villain is introduced. BDK is the local warlord who has a conflict with the Ghost. Local politics, as Mitchell explains it. BDK is a CIA asset so there's the rub. Will the squad sit by and allow the asset to abuse the only good Afghani in the country? Guess.
“Hyena Road” is an average war movie. It is not bad entertainment for a movie you can watch instantly on Netflix. I think I would have left a theater a little pissed however. I am just imagining that since it made $1,430 in American theaters. I sure as hell am glad I did not make a trip to Canada to see it. The movie does have some built in good will from the involvement of Paul Gross of “Northern Exposure” fame. It was obviously a personal project for him and he deserves credit for trying to honor Canadian soldiers. In that respect it is similar to his effort in “Passchendaele”. This movie is not as good as that one because its weaknesses are more pronounced.
Some of those weaknesses include the pulsating, pompous music. This is matched by the ridiculously pompous narration which includes a fictional story about Alexander the Great sending some Afghan dirt to his mother. The plot is full of clichés including the current favorite of Afghan war movies - the dilemma of choosing sides in the internecine warfare. Also thrown in is the classic romance with the modern twist of the lovers being comrades in arms. In this case, the relationship between Sanders and Bowman appears to exist mainly to facilitate tear-jerking. The plot is strangely disjointed, but it does grab the low hanging fruit of Afghanistan was, is, and always will be fracked up. Some parts of the narrative make little sense. For instance, where did the large number of Taliban come from in the final scene? To his credit, Gross did not make a propaganda piece justifying Canadian involvement. However, it does appear that the Canadian military cooperated with the production. At the least, Gross was allowed to film Canadian soldiers in action in Afghanistan. The movie uses appropriate weaponry.
The acting is not distracting. Gross dominates, as is his prerogative. He puts some effort into depicting soldier behavior. There is a lot of soldier jargon. The dialogue is not noteworthy, in a good way. As I said, the movie is average in most ways. Unfortunately, that includes the combat. The movie may be Canadian, but the action is American. The cuts are quick and there is some POV. Some of the violence is graphic. There are some decent action scenes including two ambushes with the second one including some Canadian casualties. The action balances fairly well with the Mitchell / Ghost / BDK dynamic. The Ghost character is interesting. The movie gives us a sympathetic Muslim to match the stereotypical jihadist.
“Hyena Road” is a decent time waster. It helps if you are a Paul Gross fan. This might be the rare war movie that females might tolerate. As far as it cracking my 100 Best War Movies list, maybe if I was limiting the list to Canadian movies.
GRADE = C