When I first saw the trailer for Hyena Road last summer,
The trailer was fast-paced, gritty with high production values. About half-way through it, I realized a lot of the military vehicles in the short teaser were Canadian LAVs (Light Armoured Vehicles). Then, I noticed the uniforms and personal gear looked Canadian too. I assumed it was another U.S. war flick filmed using Canadian gear until I realized the characters were wearing Canadian flags on their uniforms and there were Canada tags on the vehicles. Here, for the first time in my memory, was a modern-era Hollywood-style war movie about Canadian soldiers. Being soldiers.
I had the chance to attend the film’s premiere at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival and came away with mixed thoughts about the movie. It’s a movie absolutely worth seeing – in fact, I think most Canadians should see it. Its portrayal of Canadian soldiers as warriors and not merely “peacekeepers” is refreshing. Deeper and truer than Canada’s modern fascination with its mythical “tradition” of peacekeeping, is the gritty truth of our history as a nation that cares enough to stand up for what’s right and sends some of the world’s best warriors to defend the good by visiting violence, when necessary, upon the bad. Hyena Road shows Canadian soldiers as what they are: warriors – men and women who stand up for the innocent by fighting tirelessly against evil.
As a film, Hyena Road has flaws. It opens with entirely unnecessary voice-over narration from director and star Paul Gross that aims to set the scene, but merely serves to remind the audience this is a “Canadian film” and not a Hollywood blockbuster. Thankfully, the narrator returns only a few more times throughout the film, each time dragging the audience out of the story and back into the theatre. It’s unwelcome and detracts from what should be an immersive film experience.
The script draws from a long list of real-world events that actually happened during Canada’s decade long war in Afghanistan: Snipers. Firefights. IEDs. Casualties. Beautiful and innocent children suffering the ravages of war. Political corruption. Illicit love affairs. Illegal pregnancies. Outstanding human intelligence efforts. etc. Gross clumsily tries to cram them all into one film and the credibility of the story suffers for it.
As a former soldier, the element in the movie that struck me most was the visceral realism of the visual effects. The effect of gunshots and explosions on human beings and their fragile bodies are cringingly graphic and entirely real. Those looking for Hollywood-style ball-o-flame grenade explosions won’t find them here.
Hyena Road may not be a great work of art. But, it’s a film you should see, if only to remind you that Canadian soldiers are soldiers. And they’re damned good ones.
Hyena Road 2015
Written, Produced & Directed by Paul Gross
In theatres and on iTunes