HYENA ROAD (2015) is a Canadian war film that tells the story of three men fighting different wars in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. It’s a highly realistic and compelling drama, with great action and an interesting inside look at the complexity of the military occupation of that war-torn country.
The film begins with Warrant Officer Ryan Sanders, leader of a rifle squad that finds itself heavily engaged while patrolling the road. They fall back to a village where a tribal leader shelters them and sends the Taliban away. This event catches the interest of Captain Pete Mitchell, an intelligence officer who sees a potential ally. The tribal elder may be a legendary fighter who wreaked havoc on the Soviets. Sanders agrees to help Mitchell track him down. The tribal leader, however, is embroiled in his own problem with a local Afghan leader who is nominally an ally of the Americans but is secretly encouraging Taliban attacks.
Sanders views the war personally–you see a problem in front of you, you act, and you make a difference. Mitchell is playing a bigger game that focuses on factions, not individuals, and puts the moral issues aside to achieve a greater good. The Afghan leader has put war behind him but is sucked into confrontation with another leader, forced to fight a very personal war.
The movie has a simple message–war is bad, soldiers are good–and fails to reach for pathos or moral lessons. That being said, it has a low-key style and deep authenticity punctuated by natural dialogue, touches of military life and overall realism. The action sequences are plenty thrilling and involve people you actually care about. I enjoyed the movie as much for what it isn’t as what it is. The characters aren’t earnest cardboard cutout heroes, the war is presented as complex, and the moral issues aren’t spoon-fed to us as black and white.
HYENA ROAD is a refreshing take on the War on Terror, recommended for fans of war films that make an extra effort to get character, story and world-building as right as its action.