Behind Enemy Lines is a 2001 American war film directed by John Moore in his directorial debut, and starring Owen Wilson and Gene Hackman.
The film tells the story of Lieutenant Chris Burnett, an American naval flight officer who is shot down over Bosnia and uncovers genocide during the Bosnian War. Meanwhile, his commanding officer is struggling to gain approval to launch a combat search and rescue mission to save Burnett.
The plot is loosely based on the 1995 Mrkonjić Grad incident that occurred during the war.
During the Bosnian War, United States Navy flight officer Lieutenant Chris Burnett and pilot Lieutenant Jeremy Stackhouse, who are stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the Adriatic Sea, are assigned an aerial reconnaissance mission by their commanding officer, Admiral Reigart. The mission goes smoothly until they spot suspicious activity in the demilitarised zone where NATO aircraft and the warring factions are prohibited from engaging in military activity. Burnett persuades Stackhouse to fly their F/A-18F Super Hornet off-course to get a close look and photograph the target. They are unaware that they photographed mass graves, and Serb paramilitaries see the jet. The local Bosnian Serb paramilitary commander, General Miroslav Lokar, is conducting a secret genocidal campaign against the local Bosniak population. Not wanting the mass graves to be discovered, Lokar orders the jet be shot down.
Despite trying to outmanoeuvre the missiles fired at them, their jet is hit and both men are forced to eject. Shortly after touching ground, a Serb patrol finds an injured Stackhouse and interrogate him. Stackhouse is then executed by Sasha, one of Lokar’s right-hand men. Burnett, who was observing the Serbs’ interrogation of Stackhouse from a hill, flees the area, but exposes his location. Wanting Burnett dead as well, Lokar orders both his deputy, Colonel Bazda, and Sasha to find him. After Burnett contacts Reigart for help, he orders Burnett to move to a certain location in order to be extracted. However, Reigart is forced to stand down after Admiral Piquet, the commander of NATO naval forces in the region, warns him that rescuing Burnett in the demilitarised zone risks derailing the peace process. When Burnett reaches the extraction point, Reigart informs him that he must move to another location miles outside of the demilitarised zone in order to be rescued.
Immediately after being informed, Burnett sees a Serb patrol, led by Bazda, looking for him. Running from them, he falls into the mass grave that he and Stackhouse had photographed and hides under a dead body. When the patrol is out of sight, he continues to run. On his way to the new extraction point, Burnett encounters a group of Bosniak guerrillas in a pickup truck who offer him a ride. The guerrillas inform Burnett that they are heading to Hač, which is supposedly a safe haven but turns out to be a war zone. During the battle, Serb troops believe that they have found Burnett’s body, but Sasha realises that Burnett had switched uniforms with a dead Serb guerrilla and escaped Hač.
The Serbs turn the situation to their advantage, presenting the corpse wearing Burnett’s uniform to the media, and saying he was killed by guerrillas. The ruse works and a mission to rescue Burnett is aborted. However, Burnett notices an angel statue near where his ejection seat landed. He returns to his seat and activates the rescue beacon. Though the carrier group notices his signal and positively identifies him, Burnett has also alerted the Serbs to his location.
Knowing he risks being relieved of command, Reigart prepares a task force to rescue Burnett in open defiance of Piquet’s orders. Meanwhile, Bazda and Sasha are ordered by Lokar to find Burnett and kill him, but on their way, Bazda steps on a landmine and Sasha abandons him to his fate. The mine eventually explodes, alerting Burnett that someone is following him. After Sasha finds the ejection seat, Burnett ambushes him and the two men engage in hand-to-hand combat until Burnett fatally stabs Sasha. Immediately thereafter, Lokar arrives with armored vehicles and infantry who open fire on Burnett. Reigart’s task force arrives and holds off Lokar’s forces. After retrieving the hard drive containing the photos of the mass graves, Burnett is successfully rescued.
The footage Burnett retrieved leads to the arrest and conviction of Lokar for war crimes including genocide, while Reigart’s actions result in him being relieved of command and his eventual retirement. Burnett continues his career in the Navy.
Mrkonjic Grad Incident
Scott Francis O’Grady, born 12 October 1965, is a former United States Air Force fighter pilot.
On 02 June 1995, he was shot down over Bosnia and Herzegovina by an 2K12 Kub mobile SAM launcher and forced to eject from his F-16C into hostile territory.
US Marines eventually rescued O’Grady after he spent nearly a week evading the Bosnian Serbs.
He was previously involved in the Banja Luka incident where he fired upon six enemy aircraft.
Behind Enemy Lines Franchise
The film was followed by three direct-to-video sequels:
- Behind Enemy Lines (2001).
- Behind Enemy Lines II: Axis of Evil (2006).
- Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia (2009).
- Behind Enemy Lines: SEAL Team Eight (2014).
The third film was co-produced by WWE Studios. None of these sequels feature the cast and crew of the original.
Production & Filming Details
- Director: John Moore.
- Producer: John Moore.
- Screenplay: David Veloz and Zak Penn.
- Story: Jim Thomas and John Thomas.
- Music: Don Davis.
- Cinematography: Brendan Galvin.
- Editor: Paul Martin Smith.
- Production: Davis Entertainment.
- Distributor: 20th Century Fox.
- Release Date: 30 November 2001 (US).
- Running Time: 106 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English and Bosnian.