Muddled but Bold: A Review of ‘Hyena Road’

Posted in Festival Coverage, Movies, Theatrical, TIFF 2015 by - October 09, 2015
Muddled but Bold: A Review of ‘Hyena Road’

It’s an interesting beast when you get a movie that is delving into the complexities of war in a way that really hasn’t been seen before.  Hyena Road is a unique experience in Canadian filmmaking as while it is far from perfect in the hands of a filmmaker who is a little out of his depth, it still works as a multi-layered tale of the emotional costs of war that was never meant to be won.

Working in the belly of the beast of conflict that is Afghanistan, we get the stories of three different soldiers fighting three very different wars in this conflict zone that is just as complicated as the lives that these people are trying to lead.  As sniper (Rossif Sutherland) who begins to get a little too emotionally involved in the lives at the other end of his scope, an operations officer (Christine Horne) who he is also a little too emotionally involved with and an intelligence officer (Paul Gross) whose fundamental beliefs in the ethics of war keep him consistently sarcastic and world-weary but well versed in the cold realities  of this world that he operates in as they all try to get the ‘Hyena Road’ built to improve safety of travel across the country.

While I will be the first to admit to this films messy and often over ambitious narrative, Hyena Road has something that just most other Canadian movies are unsuccessful at.  It isn’t afraid of being bold as it tackles a complex issue that just doesn’t have a clear cut answer.

The ‘A’ is admittedly there for effort, but as a screenwriter and director Paul Gross tries to cram to much information into the moment which makes things a little muddled and confusing as it is simply doing too much too fast.  He has some moments of shocking clarity but they are never allowed a chance to simmer and sink in with the audience.  It is a very technically proficient film and has a look probably far beyond its actual budget but the amount of activity doesn’t allow us as audience members to truly appreciate how muddled and confusing life over there can actually get.  The conflicting moralities are at play but the emotion of it all rarely comes through as it tries to make more of statement about the complex nature of war then about the effects on those in the middle of it.  It’s nice that Gross had a big idea but he just doesn’t have the chops to tell it in a clear cut and efficient way.


One true place where we got some genuine emotion is in the leading man performance of Rossif Sutherland as Ryan the idealistic young sniper who is just trying to do some good in a world where the shades of grey can just get to be goddamn overwhelming.  He brings some genuine heart and frustration to the role as man who just isn’t 100% sure that he is doing the right thing.  Paul Gross works well opposite him as the career soldier who knows he is in a country where there just isn’t a clear cut fix in anything that they do.  The interplay between both men is priceless as the idealist and the pragmatist have to navigate their way through urban warfare both the highs and the lows as they both try to do what they feel is the “right” thing”.

Ultimately, Hyena Road is a messy affair but it has an unshakable nobility to it.  It’s Canadian filmmaking that remains honest to our own stories while trying to take some risks and feel bold at the exact same time.  After its debut at TIFF, it’s a movie that deserves as large an audience as possible, if only to talk about some of the issues that it brings up even more.

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David Voigt, has been a lover of cinema all his life and an actual underpaid critic for a solid 5 years covering everything that the city of Toronto has to offer. He was a content manager in video distribution industry before that and his love of all things cinema goes back to his first moments in awe looking up at the big screen. His 12 years of experience on the home entertainment side of the business have provided him with a unique view on what is worth spending your hard earned entertainment dollars on. Combine that with his unquestioned love of film, David should be your only stop to find out about the best in film, not only in Toronto, but worldwide.