It’s fair to say that I’m no fan of Passchendaele (I’ve gone on record several times that I think it’s the worst film this country has ever produced) so it’s clearly a backhanded compliment to claim that Hyena Road is better than that. Still, there’s actually loads to applaud about Paul Gross’ latest film. Its opening sequence is extraordinary, with the rat-tat-tat cadence of military jargon perfect at conveying the dispassion and every-day madness of death and destruction.
Shot partially on location in Afghanistan and on a base in Manitoba, the film for the most part looks and feels authentic. It’s only when Gross’ usual melodramatic and romantic proclivities appear that the film takes a dive. These aspects may help sell the project to a more general audience, but for this jaded movie goer they feel hackneyed and redundant – I don’t need maudlin scenes with sonograms to make me care about a person being put into harm’s way.
These hamfisted moments threaten to overshadow all the things the film gets right – you only need to watch the man known as “the Ghost” put his hand behind his back and walk up a hill nonchalantly to feel the power of the people of the forbidding place. Many Afghani characters are well drawn, and Gross dances between telling the audience what they’re thinking and leaving many of their words and motivations opaque.
I wish he had the confidence in his audience to have made the film that it sets out to be, a vigorous war film demanding upon its audience and free from the soap-operatic trappings. There’s a terrific film in here marred by some missteps. Hyena Road is one that should definitely seen, but one that easily could have been so much more.