Eye For Film >> Movies >> Hyena Road (2015) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Hyenas, according to St Augustine, are naturally untrustworthy creatures which have deviated from God's plan (as evidenced by their sexual behaviour). In Afghanistan they symbolise love and fertility but they are also feared. Hyena Road - also known as Route Fosters - is a road that winds along the Arghandab River through Helmand Province. Because of its proximity to four Western military bases, there has been a major focus on guarding and upgrading it - and, accordingly, a succession of attempts by insurgents to disrupt that process.
Telling something of the story of the road whilst endeavouring to explain something of the politics of the region around it, this film centres on a Canadian military unit charged with countering insurgency and trying to stabilise the local situation. Senior officers are painfully aware that they're not there to fight a war they can win - rather, they have stepped into the middle of at least three wars being fought by other people and their aim is simply to survive and try to help the civilians in the area. Doing so, however, can be a complicated business - stepping in to help vulnerable individuals in situations whose moral context seems clear risks destabilising larger scale strategies and thereby putting more lives in danger. When legendary leader The Ghost appears in the area, they are anxious to secure his help - but, despite looking out for soldiers in danger, he has an agenda of his own.
The film opens with casual conversation as relaxed soldiers watch over the road - followed by furious action when danger emerges. It's a pattern that repeats throughout the film. Although it's successful in getting audiences to connect with the sense of constant threat, there's a risk that it will distract from some of the strategic discussion. Only towards the end does it become apparent that some of this distraction may have been deliberate, as the younger soldiers realise that they've completely failed to understand what has been happening around them. Local people behave in ways they utterly failed to anticipate; simply identifying who is or is not friendly towards them is not enough.
The film builds a number of subplots into this, attempting to give some sense of what else goes on in soldiers' lives when they're sitting around in the desert facing day after day of routine tasks. It's pleasing to see the usual bravado downplayed in favour of something more realistic; likewise, although the dialogue doesn't always sparkle, it's much more in keeping with the way real soldiers talk. Unfortunately, some of the plotting is more in keeping with Hollywood logic than real life, which makes aspects of the ending overly predictable.
Hyena Road is based on interviews with soldiers who served in the region and has the distinction of being shot partly in Afghanistan itself (most such films being shot in safer and better resourced locations in Pakistan). It's one of the better films about the Afghan conflicts but it struggles to strike a balance between connecting with real soldiers' experiences and contributing something interesting to the genre.Reviewed on: 13 Feb 2016
If you like this, try:Restrepo