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Review: Hyena Road

October 9, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Hyena Road PosterAfter taking us to the battlefields of World War II in his 2008 epic Passchendaele, writer-director Paul Gross returns to the combat zone in his modern war film Hyena Road.  Taking place during the War in Afghanistan, this pretty good action drama focuses on a group of Canadian soldiers stationed in Kandahar, the “birthplace of the Taliban.”

The film follows the closely intersecting stories of an idealistic young sniper (Rossif Sutherland), who is involved with his female colleague (Christine Horne), the tough intelligence officer (Paul Gross) who sometimes clashes with him in their differing ideas of what decisions to make on the ground, and a local elder (Neamat Arghandabi) who becomes linked to their mission.

Filmed in both Manitoba and Jordan, the sequences of combat are all surprisingly well done.  Paul Gross stages some tense and authentically brutal firefights that are admittedly ambitious for a homegrown film, making full use of the surround sound speakers to further immerse us in the gunfire and explosions.  Having spent time with actual troops in order to nail the cadences of their dialogue and army jargon, the writer-director is equally interested in showing the politicking behind every decision and the day to day lives of the soldiers.  It’s all solidly performed by the cast, including strong work from Rossif Sutherland and Paul Gross.

The film can be weighed down by stock characters, and the moral dilemmas are sometimes painted in broad strokes.  The almost ubiquitous romantic subplot ends up exactly where we expect it will, and is underdeveloped to the point where it probably could have been left out for a leaner narrative.  These more predictable and melodramatic moments aren’t really aided by the clichéd voiceover, and especially when compared to other modern war movies like The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty and American Sniper, the film sometimes feels a bit middle of the road.

But when the film hits its stride, Hyena Road reveals a perfectly serviceable movie waiting within the 120 minute running time, even if there is a little too much padding around it.  This is a well-intentioned and mostly engaging action drama, that channels its themes of combat and morally ambiguous war through a Canadian lens, offering many pulse pounding and ambitiously staged sequences along the way.

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