In Taliban-occupied Kandahar, “even the dirt is hostile,” an omniscient narrator declares — sounding about as foreboding as a sleep-deprived game-show host. “Birds fight birds,” he continues. “Dogs fight dogs. And men…kill men.”
This, we learn in Paul Gross’s military drama Hyena Road, is how a battalion of terrorist-hunting Canadian soldiers feel about their assignment. In case those sentiments aren’t trite enough, there’s a funeral procession with bagpipes and an obligatory down-time dancing sequence, set to “Play That Funky Music.” (Just so we know the fun won’t last for these troops, the funk segues ominously into an ambient dirge).
The sole suspense in Hyena Road, also written by and starring Gross, lies in whether a creepy, dual-eye-colored Afghan mystic known locally as “the Ghost” is a friend or foe of the Canadians. Waiting for the answer, viewers are graced with a few disappointingly subdued action scenes, two humdrum romantic subplots, and a virtual museum of bad acting. We get it all: the mumbly, the tic-ridden, the stiff, and the apoplectic (a soldier smashes an office apart as he vents his rage at “medievalists”).
The one standout performer is Nabil Elouahabi as a wisecracking, wily informant. Some momentum can be found in Karim Hussain’s slick camerawork as he tracks the whooshing trajectory of a sniper’s bullet, though it’s often canceled out by the overwrought score (lots of timpani and discordant wailing). Most grating is the film’s dogged respect for military code. Nowhere else — besides maybe a truck-driving class — will you hear this much alphanumerical lingo (“I got a 4198226.” “Roger that, Alpha 66”). This anti-war movie is more passionate about CB radio communication than the horrors of bloodshed.
Written and directed by Paul Gross
Samuel Goldwyn Films
Opens March 11, Village East Cinema
Available on demand
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 8, 2016