Writer-director-star Paul Gross' new film portrays the heroic duties undertaken by Canadian armed forces in Afghanistan with the same gut-wrenching immediacy that Gross brought to the blood-soaked Belgian battlefields of World War I in his epic Passchendaele. Hyena Road is a masterful examination of modern warfare that drops viewers straight into the belly of the beast.
Depicting an embattled Canadian- American initiative to increase safe transport across Afghanistan, Hyena Road is a group portrait of men and women at work in a dangerous and often confounding conflict zone. We meet a sniper (Rossif Sutherland, also appearing at the Festival in Hellions and River) who becomes precariously implicated in the life of one of his targets — as well as the life of an alluring colleague (Christine Horne). There's an intelligence officer (Gross, also appearing at the Festival in Deepa Mehta's Beeba Boys) whose customary world-weary wisecracks — "Even the dirt is hostile" — veil a fundamental belief in the ethics of war. And the film introduces us to a legendary former mujahid known as The Ghost (Neamat Arghandabi) who, for mysterious reasons, is lured back into the battle zone to assist the Canadian forces.
All these characters' trajectories collide in ways that illustrate the triumphs and frustrations that occur amid the moral uncertainty of war. Alternating between relatively tranquil scenes of life at the base and adrenalized sequences that thrust us into the heat of battle, Gross orchestrates a cinematic symphony of soldiering: the highs and lows, the brotherhood and barbarity. Hyena Road does what great war movies can do: it carefully examines the plight of a few so as to speak to the experience of many.