Hyena Road

By Tim McEown

Mailed on October 14, 2015

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Dear Paul Gross
Producer / Writer / Director / Star

Dear Paul,

There it is Paul—that’s the problem right there. Your fingerprints are all over every single aspect of Hyena Road. Maybe if it were a smaller, less ambitious work—say a TV series about a struggling, small-town playhouse in Midwestern Canada—your omnipresence would have made sense. But this is a big sprawling, multi-faceted story with multiple locations and complex set pieces that never reaches the heights it seeks, which strongly suggests you had one too many balls in the air. The result is a competent movie that never manages to rise above that particularly Canadian metric of “not bad”.

This is a story of the convoluted circle-jerk that inevitably results from western military interventions—specifically, in this case, Afghanistan and Canada’s role there. It is a role that is so ill defined that a simple task like getting the titular Hyena Road completed (a highway that is meant to create a transport link in a highly contested region) becomes a surreal exercise in realpolitik. There are so many splintered factions that simply identifying allies and enemies is like playing darts blindfolded: it’s all a vague hope guided by a desire not to put your friend’s eye out.

There is the requisite interaction between soldiers and civilians, each suspicious of (and misunderstood by) the other. There is also a failed attempt to delineate exactly why these relationships really never evolve, something that seems a promising thread, but is abandoned in the increasingly diffuse second and third act. Hyena Road is a weak echo of films like Zero Dark Thirty or even Black Hawk Down, and is too reliant upon nondescript action sequences that lack the kind of visual creativity that those other films possess—so that Hyena Road ends up, in these big moments, feeling like a B-grade straight to streaming flick.

The performances are capable—with the exception of you and your enigmatic Afghani counterpart Neamat Arghandabi. You both push too hard in scenes that require a nuance this film often lacks. Rossif Sutherland (son of the good Donald) makes a strong impression as a Canadian Special Forces member—but he and the rest of the cast are really just fodder for a movie that is singularly on point in its message and yet somehow flabby and remarkably un-agile.

I admire your ambition, Paul, but it has apparently gone unchecked. It is a rare creative force that manages to wear so many hats and pull it off. Maybe it would have been hard to get this film made had you not agreed to take on so much, but ask yourself this: what good is it to create something that is the mere ghost of what it might have been? It seems to me far better to scale down the project to something manageable or conversely to maintain the scale but delegate some of the work to others. The only time it makes sense a person to have so many slashes in your titles is when they produce something really exemplary. See: Kenneth Branagh, Christopher Guest, and Charlie Chaplin.



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