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Film / Behind Enemy Lines

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Behind Enemy Lines is a 2001 action movie directed by John Moore, starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman.

Lt. Chris Burnett (Wilson) a U.S. Navy flight officcer who gets shot down over Bosnia and has to survive while trapped behind enemy lines. The Serb force that is after him, and which summarily executed his pilot, is especially tenacious because during their recon mission Burnett's crew inadvertently photographed mass graves. Running ensues. Meanwhile, a task force led by Rear Admiral Reigart (Hackman) embarks on an (unauthorized) rescue mission to try and rescue Burnett.

The film was followed by three direct-to-video sequels, Behind Enemy Lines 2: Axis of Evil, Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia, and SEAL Team 8: Behind Enemy Lines.

Tropes featured include:

  • Action Girl: Zoe in the fourth film, the first example of such in the series.
    • Dark Action Girl: She's actually Malen, the mysterious arms dealer that the CIA knows nothing about yet is still working with, and is playing the SEAL team for fools.
  • Action Survivor: Burnett in the original film. Being a lone navigator with only a sidearm for protection, he spends nearly his entire ordeal running for his life from the Serbian forces hunting him down. He only directly engages an enemy at the very end, both because there's nowhere left for him to run while he awaits rescue and because said enemy, Sasha, was the same guy who executed Stackhouse.
  • Actor Allusion: Burnett's superior officer Reigart is played by Gene Hackman, who had his own go with the Trapped Behind Enemy Lines scenario in Bat*21.
  • Adrenaline Time: Used quite frequently.
  • Anachronism Stew: The F/A-18F Super Hornet depicted in the first film didn't have its first flight until 1995, and then didn't enter service until 1999, making it unlikely to have flown during the Bosnian War of 1992-1995.
    • Also, there's a reference to the film Cast Away, which didn't exist in 1995 (it was released in 2000).
  • Artifact Title: SEAL Team 8 is pretty much this. The "enemy lines" are rather vague and hazy, and more importantly they stay in contact with base. For most of the time, they have a Predator drone watching over them.
  • Artistic License – Military: From the first movie: fuel drop tanks generally won't explode like that, and certainly won't make a fireball big enough to divert a heat-seeking missile. On top of that, the missiles are radar-guided, meaning that the fireball and the flares they pop are useless. Finally, once the Hornet is hit and they punch out, both Burnett and Stackhouse each have to pull the handle for their Ejection Seat. In a fighter, if one crewmember pulls the handle, both seats are automatically ejected.
  • Attack Drone: A Predator drone sees heavy use in the fourth film.
  • Big "NO!": Burnett accidentally lets one out when Stackhouse gets killed. Unfortunately, it tips off the Serbs, who had no idea he even existed before then.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Played straight in Axis of Evil (though he did die at roughly the same time as the other team member) but averted in SEAL Team 8 where Jay is the only member of the team besides Case to survive.
  • Bullet Time: Used in the scene where Serb troops set off a minefield while chasing Burnett.
  • The Caligula: General Ntonga in the fourth film is introduced gunning down an innocent villager simply for being on the wrong side. We next see him relaxing at a pool party with A Lady on Each Arm listening to loud music.
  • Caught in the Bad Part of Town: The hero has obtained evidence of war crimes before being shot down over hostile territory.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Reigart is clearly pissed that he's lost a plane and a pilot. He angsts about it at one point to a master chief, telling him that he only pushes Burnett so hard to motivate him.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The statue, the letter, the tracking device... there's actually a lot.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Burnett hides under a corpse in a mass grave to evade his pursuers at one point, and they stab piles of mud, making sure he's not hiding under there. Later on, he hides under a snowdrift to get the drop on Sasha.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Zoe was captured and tortured by Ntonga, explaining her violent reaction to him when he starts taunting her. She was faking it. Later, when Jay is captured, she beats the living hell out of him, just for the fun of it.
  • Cold Sniper: Sasha.
  • Covered in Mud: Happens to the protagonist when he is forced to hide among the bodies in a mass grave.
  • Darkest Africa: SEAL Team 8 uses the more modern depiction of the trope, with genocidal warlords oppressing helpless villagers. The climax of the film takes place in what initially seems to be a normal, modern city, but that gets turned on its head when it turns out nearly everyone on the street is packing some kind of firearm. The shootout that ensues even results in most of the normal people degenerating into a chaotic riot and arming themselves with whatever Improvised Weapon they can find.
  • The Dragon: Two of them in the first movie. Sasha is a cold and ruthless tracker, while Lokar's deputy Bazda is rather inept.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Burnett swaps his flightsuit for a dead mook's uniform to get out of an enemy-controlled town. It works, but backfires when the Serbs broadcast footage of the dead mook's corpse (with a bag over his head) to make it look like he's been killed, which makes the NATO forces turn around when they were heading to rescue him.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: The Navy SEALs in the sequels.
  • Elvis Impersonator: One of the Bosniak guerrillas has Elvis-stye sideburns and shades and plays an Elvis song on his truck radio.
  • Expy: Lokar, the Big Bad of the first movie, bears more than a passing resemblance to real-life Željko "Arkan" Ražnatović, commander of Serb Volunteer Guard. Complete with MP5 submachine gun.
  • Firing in the Air a Lot: How the Serbs celebrate shooting Burnett down. Burnett tries it to attract the attention of the rescue force that's just turned around. It doesn't work.
  • Foreshadowing: During the briefing for the abortive attempt to rescue Burnett, Reigart remarks that his signal has circled around towards where he originally punched out. Later, Burnett spots the statue that he flew by in his parachute. His ejection seat landed near the statue and has a beacon he can use to signal for help, along with the disk that has the pictures of the mass graves.
  • Gangsta Style: Burnett fires his sidearm this way at the end of the film and actually manages to hit something with it. Granted he's doing it while sliding across the ice and firing one-handed, so Rule of Cool is firmly in effect.
  • Gatling Good: The Hueys used to rescue Burnett are armed with Miniguns in addition to unguided rockets. Burnett & Stackhouse's F/A-18F Super Hornet also has a built-in Vulcan rotary cannon, but it's not used in the film.
  • Good-Looking Privates: The female comms officer Collins in the fourth movie is very pretty. Then again, she's played by South African model Tanya van Graan.
  • Guns Akimbo: Sasha at one point dual wields his own CZ 75B pistol and the Beretta 92SB he took from Stackhouse, firing both of them at Burnett when he spots him.
    • General Ntonga in the fourth film starts blasting away at the Navy SEAL team with dual pistols. One of them looks golden.
  • Gunship Rescue: A small army has Burnett pinned down, only for a pair of Marine Huey gunships to show up and make a valiant attempt to achieve sufficient dakka.
  • Guy in Back: The hero is a Weapons Systems Officer, not a pilot.
  • He Knows Too Much: The Serbs are hunting the crew because they overflew and took pictures of a mass grave. For at least the first half of the movie, Burnett doesn't even know why they're trying to kill him.
  • High-Speed Missile Dodge: Subverted in that it doesn't work.
  • His Name Is...: Ntonga was about to say something regarding Zoe when she suddenly grabs a machete off a rack and puts it through his neck.
  • Hope Spot: Two in the first movie:
    • A minor one when the Serbs find Stackhouse. The Big Bad speaks with Sasha, the Serbs walk away, Sasha helps Stackhouse up, and it looks like they're going to take him prisoner, if nothing else...and then Sasha shoots Stackhouse in the back of the head.
    • The initial rescue for Burnett is almost there, when they get the word that Burnett's been killed and are recalled. He literally has to watch them fly away.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: At the end, Burnett is fleeing through open ground in the snow but isn't hit once by the fire from dozens of Serb paramilitary troops, mobile anti-aircraft batteries, APCs, snipers, and even a tank. Instead only one poor U.S. Red Shirt in a helicopter is hit by the salvo of destruction.
  • Improvised Weapon: Burnett uses a flare to kill Sasha.
  • In Name Only: All of the sequels.
  • Inter-Service Rivalry: NATO command and the U.S. Navy in the first movie, specifically Admiral Piquet and Admiral Reigart. Subverted one on antagonists' side: while Lokar bears patches of Serb Volunteer Guard (and supposed to be an Expy of Arkan himself), colonel Bazda has insignia of the Bosnian Serb army. In other words, warlord of a paramilitary unit and officer of an actual military force.
  • I Work Alone: Sasha insists that if his boss wants Burnett dead, he should send him and just him. Presumably because the other guys aren't subtle. To be fair, he repeatedly comes closer to killing Burnett than anyone else does.
  • Keep It Foreign: Invoked by Roger Ebert in his review of this movie, also provides the page quote.
  • Land Mine Goes "Click!": Sasha notices a landmine, deliberately steps over it, and doesn't warn the guy behind him. When he steps on the mine, he asks Sasha for help, only for Sasha to draw a gun on him and tell him to hold still. The guy moving and setting off the mine warns Burnett that Sasha's coming.
  • Line in the Sand: Reigart to the Marine rescue team.
    Reigart: Gentlemen, I want to make one thing clear before we leave. I intend to put you in harm's way. Any man who doesn't wish to join this mission, step away right now. [nobody moves] Alright then. Let's go get our boy back.
  • Mood Whiplash: After Dan gets killed in the fourth movie, the rest of the team is understandably upset and they take a moment to rest near a river while grieving the loss. Meanwhile, Case goes to dress Zoe's gunshot injury... and winds up flirting with her while he bandages her. Seriously?
  • Nom de Guerre: In the original film. They're never used, but in a brief shot before Burnett and Stackhouse take off, you see that their call-signs are "Longhorn" and "Smoke," respectively.
  • Oh, Crap!: A truly magnificent one in the original film.
    Chris: "Holy shit! We're being painted!"
    Jeremy: "What?!"
  • One-Man Army: After Jay gets captured, Case turns into this when he runs into a nearby city to rescue him.
  • Pink Mist: Dan in SEAL Team 8 gets plastered with an RPG and turns into this.
  • Precision F-Strike:
    Reigart: Our man is down behind enemy lines, now what the fuck is the problem?!
  • Product Placement: At one point, Chris hitches a ride with some guerrillas and one of them offers him a Coke. He drinks it, and says it's good.
  • Restricted Rescue Operation: Piquet repeatedly obstructs Reigart's attempts to rescue Burnett because extracting him from a demilitarized zone could flare up hostilities and cause an international incident. By the end of it, Reigart decides to screw the rules and rescue Burnett even if it costs him his career.
  • Retirony: Thankfully subverted in the first film - with two layers. Burnett was planning to separate from the Navy after the end of his current tour (in two weeks), and the recon flight they were shot down on was just a few days before the carrier was due to leave.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The second movie's plot is based on an enormous explosion in 2004 in Ryanggang. The explosion's true cause is still unknown, and the U.S., South Korea, & North Korea all all gave contradicting stories on what caused it. The film goes with the explanation that SEAL Team One was sent into North Korea to sabotage a nuclear missile under construction.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: More like "Screw my career," but Reigart launches a rescue mission for Burnett, knowing that it'll cost him his career. He gets reassigned to an "administrative job" in Washington as a result, but chooses to retire instead.
  • Semper Fi: The US Marines make up the bulk of the rescue force that saves Burnett.
  • Super-Persistent Missile: The two SA-8 rockets that take down Burnett and Stackhouse are way too invested in taking them down.
  • Tough Love: One from Reigart to Burnett, with hints of Dare to Be Badass and Rousing Speech.
    Reigart: You are a combat naval aviator. Start acting like one! You've been shot down. Life is tough. I'm very sorry. But you pull yourself together! You do whatever it takes. Create some angles between you and your pursuers. Use your training, use your head. Evade and survive, and we will bring you home! Do you understand, we will bring you home!
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines
  • Wham Line: From the original...
    Chris: "Golden Eagle, Archangel, we've been engaged!"
  • Where Are They Now: Details what happened after the actions in the film.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Case. Especially as Zoe turned out to be lying to him all along and got three of his men killed, and abused the crap out of the last one.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Mass graves did happen, and a U.S. pilot did get shot down, but that's about it.
    • The pilot in real life was USAF, whereas the film version is U.S. Navy. The pilot US Air Force captain Scott O' Grady even sued the makers of the film, saying that 20th Century used "his story" without permission. He lost.