Many nights are spent flipping through the queue or the new additions on Netflix, or even marginally-legal streaming sites, looking for fresh flicks that tickle the proverbial fancy. There’s a feeling of uncertainty not knowing what to pick, constantly scrolling over past adventures into different worlds. Driven by the necessity of choice, with a hint of opportunity cost thrown in, it can be quite daunting to pull the trigger. One simple click of the play button can change your night, your week, or perhaps even your life. That’s why indie Canadian war-drama ‘Hyena Road’ stuck with me. Debuting out of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, ‘Hyena Road’ portrays much more than a zealous ode to the widely maligned Afghan War. 

In Canadian director Paul Gross’ third feature, ‘Hyena Road’ resonates with impactful storytelling, void of true star power, by exploring the passionately destructive, emotional roller coaster that is war. Laden with realistic military jargon that enhances the story and carries latent throwaway scenes, Gross certainly is able to fortify with heavy armor the political and moral quandaries of war behind a veil of conventional gravity. Gross glosses over neither the gruesome facets nor the mundanity of occupying a Jihadist territory, but in fact embraces it with chaotic, explosive, and vigorous skirmishes that snatch your attention right from the very beginning.

Shot in Jordan, ‘Hyena Road’ is a follow-up to Gross’ First World War epic, ‘Passchendaele’ released half a decade ago. So, killing terrorists is something with which Gross is overtly familiar. Further, Gross delivers what may be the best depiction of the Afghan War to date, edging out orthodox favorite, ‘Lone Survivor’ by a hair (please note that ‘American Sniper’ was based on the Iraq War). ‘Hyena Road’ truly is a must see for all war film enthusiasts and if not for ‘American Sniper’, would have been the best-in-show war film for 2015. Riddled with trendy, live-action Go-Pro shots that almost mimic a documentary feel, ‘Hyena Road’ paints the story of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan. The raised stakes pack a visceral punch as the tight-knit Canadian unit of snipers blast haji terrorists planting IEDs, and generally thwart al-Qaeda schemes for the benefit of local Afghani village people.

The real boon of ‘Hyena Road’ lies in its authenticity. It felt real, embedding you virtually into the soldiers laced up boots, but remains more of a film for the heart rather than the mind. It’s impulsive, but not overly, while blending an old school, devil-may-care attitude to the new era of tactical war. The main contrast develops through Gross’ character, Captain Pete Mitchell (yes he stars in his own film) and Rossif Sutherland’s character, Warrant Officer Ryan Sanders (yes that’s Donald’s son and Kiefer’s half-brother). Mitchell, a cerebral, big picture leader consistently butts heads with Sanders, more of a gun-blazing personality who believes you can change a war and perhaps the world with a single shot. Further, a secondary, similar juxtaposition arises on the Afghani side, as local warlord BDK and former Cold War hero turned village elder, The Lion of the Desert, split hairs over an old beef until the stakes get higher than a Black Hawk at stealth level.

As the two sets of counterparts mingle through their differences in opinion, escaping nasty firefights, attempting to create peace, and navigating tight danger zones time after time, the theme of uncertainty as to which path to venture down, that necessity of the action of choice shines through with the knowledge that one hasty move could derail the mission, blow up the big picture strategy, or end a life. Now that nightly movie decision doesn’t seem so bad anymore does it?

Rating: 8.5/10

Director: Paul Gross
Starring: Paul Gross, Rossif Sutherland, Christine Horne, Clark Johnson