There are two things about my personality that are very prominent. I am a huge film fan and I am a military brat. It’s rare that these two elements of my life correspond in a cohesive way; it becomes a constant battle between reality and fantasy. In the new film by Canadian filmmaker Paul Gross, Hyena Road, I have never been more impressed with the perfect blend of military and film.
I was attracted to this movie strictly for the fact that Gross, who I love from Men with Brooms and Slings and Arrows, was venturing into a war-time movie in our current political climate. It’s not anything that I would expect from him, but at the end of the film I couldn’t imagine him doing anything else. With several media references to his Army brat roots, it’s no surprise this is one of the rare military movies that captures the reality of military life.
Hyena Road centers on two different factions of the Canadian military, the soldiers fighting on the front line, lead by Ryan (Rossif Sutherland), and Intelligence officer Pete (Paul Gross), as they navigate the murky waters of building a road through the Afghan desert. There is no shortage of double agents and personal relationships to add drama to the story, but it’s never done to pull on the heartstrings. Instead, these elements reflect the complicated reality of war. As the tag line states, “Three different men, three different worlds, three different wars.”
War is intense and soldiers are incredibly brave, there is no reason to add fictional accounts to, in lack of a better phrase, glam up the storyline. By the first seven minutes, I was completely intrigued. The vast landscape of the Middle East, with the threat of insurgence, and the valor of soldiers presents such a complicated picture of the current atmosphere of war the audience immediately understands this isn’t your typical politically driven film.
Most importantly, Hyena Road showcases that it’s not just a two country war, that other countries are sending soldiers to risk their lives for the Afghan people and their homeland. The Canadian soldiers are just as brave as the Americans, just and frustrated, lovable, and devoted as any other military branch. The only difference is the Canadian flag on their arms and the hockey games on the base. It’s important, because as America’s closest and friendliest neighbors, it’s about time they receive the respect they deserve.
Gross has acted in almost all of his writing and directing ventures, but I have never been more impressed than I was with his role as Pete. It’s not easy to pull off being an officer in the military, there is a certain air of complexity that not everyone in a uniform can pull off. He didn’t try to over do the machismo or the authority, but instead blended those elements with duty and honor. In fact, all the soldiers were portrayed with respect, paying homage to real soldiers. Not all soldiers are blood thirsty kill machines, they are family and friends. This was much appreciated from a Navy sister.
Another element of this film that made an impact on both the film fan and military brat, was the camera work. Gross and Cinematographer Karim Hussain used the vast beauty of landscapes of nature and the claustrophobic nature of Middle Eastern villas (shot in both Manitoba and Jordan) to display the drama in it’s true nature. With effortless camera work, sprinkled with compelling angles, the visuals didn’t impede the enjoyment of the film and story.
Hyena Road, this isn’t your typical military movie, and because of this it is mesmerizing. The storyline included the complicated nature of religion in a foreign land, which was nice to see a different side of an ancient religion, and lives outside the protective barrier of makeshift bases; all leading to a story we have never seen before. You become invested in the characters and the atmosphere across the board instead of just rooting for the “white hatted” heroes. Complexity surrounds this beautiful tale, just like life, how a military movie should be represented.
Hyena Road is available in theaters and on VOD today, Friday March 11, 2016.
Written by Lisa Mejia