Hyena Road

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Hyena Road
Hyena Road.jpg
Film poster
Directed byPaul Gross
Written byPaul Gross
Produced byNiv Fichman
Paul Gross
StarringPaul Gross
CinematographyKarim Hussain
Edited byDavid Wharnsby
Music byAsher Lenz
Distributed byElevation Pictures
Release dates
  • 14 September 2015 (2015-09-14) (TIFF)
  • 9 October 2015 (2015-10-09) (Canada)
Running time
120 minutes

Hyena Road is a 2015 Canadian war drama film written, directed by and starring Paul Gross. It was shown in the Gala Presentations section of the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.[1] The film was shown on 24 September 2015, at the Calgary Film Festival,[2] before a general release on 9 October. It won three Canadian Screen Awards.

The film is based on the true story of "Route Hyena" being built in 2010-2011 by a Quebec-based task force assembled around 1st Battalion Royal 22e Régiment, with tanks from 12e Régiment Blindé du Canada and Canadian combat engineers. However, for this English-language film, the units are shown to be from Western Canada, based on Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, an internationally known English-Language regiment stationed in Western Canada.[3]


In Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, Canadian Army troops are encountering resistance from insurgents as they construct "Hyena Road" deep into Taliban territory.

Warrant Officer Ryan Sanders, the leader of a sniper section, finds himself under heavy fire while on sentry duty on the road. After their assigned evacuation vehicles are unable to reach their location, the section moves on foot and reaches a Pashtun village. They are harboured by a tribal elder (who has eyes of two different colours, one brown and the other blue) in his home, who sends the Taliban away after they attack the village while searching for the Canadians.

Sanders and his section evacuate the area and return to base, where his secret lover Captain Jennifer Bowman, an officer in the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), is also stationed.

Meanwhile, Captain Pete Mitchell, an Intelligence Branch officer, carries out normal duties as the road is constructed, with little help from the Afghan National Army (ANA). When he hears Sanders' story of the Afghan elder, he decides to search for the man as a potential ally. He is helped in his search by a local asset assisting against the Taliban, called The Cleaner.

While a search of the village yields nothing, Mitchell believes the man to be "the Ghost", a former militant who fought against the Soviets in the Soviet-Afghan War who gained his nickname for disappearing every time he was wounded, as his comrades would take him across the mountains into Pakistan to recover, out of the range of the Soviet military.

Mitchell eventually arranges a meeting with the Ghost, but the Ghost refuses to accept money as a deal for his help, wisely stating, "Only a fool accepts a gift without knowing what it's worth". During this conversation, Mitchell confirms his suspicion that they are talking with the man widely regarded as "The Ghost".

Meanwhile, the Canadians' Afghan ally, Bashir Daoud Khan (BDK), and his son, Karim, are double-crossing them and are working with the Taliban. Sanders' section sees this firsthand while observing the Ghost visit his son's home and granddaughters. The home was situated on land owned by BDK, while the crops had been destroyed by a Coalition airstrike some time in the past, leaving the Ghost's son with nothing to give BDK as his tithe for protection.

Soon after the Ghost leaves, BDK arrives with Taliban protection and instructs the Ghost's son to pay up his money. When the son doesn't give the money owed, BDK kidnaps the Ghost's granddaughters. Sanders' fireteam observes the whole scene, but Mitchell repeatedly instructs them to hold their fire as they do not fully understand local politics. While everyone in the Canadian intelligence group knows their Afghan allies are crooked, there is no alternative in the province, and they need all the help they can get.

Meanwhile, Bowman reveals to Sanders that she is pregnant with his child, conceived while both were on leave in Cyprus. Sanders rejoices in this, despite its being a serious problem given military regulations prohibiting fraternization. Before leaving for his next (and last) mission, Sanders proposes to Bowman and she happily accepts.

The Canadians follow the Ghost, who has declared a personal war against BDK in revenge for the kidnapping of the girls. With assistance from his tribe, the Ghost abducts BDK's son Karim and beheads him. Following this, the Ghost arranges a meeting with BDK in an isolated house, at the same time when BDK is supposed to be with the Canadians as they commemorate the opening of Hyena Road.

When BDK arrives with his bodyguards in a convoy, he demands to know the location of his son. The Ghost responds by opening a sack he has brought and holding up Karim's severed head, at which point BDK pulls out his pistol and threatens to kill the Ghost.

Sanders and his section, who have been observing the incident, shoot and kill BDK as they see his positive intent of violence. They do not, however, know that the Ghost desired to die having nothing else to live for and only wanted to avenge his grandchildren who he assumed were lost forever.

As the section pulls out, dozens of Taliban insurgents arrive, and the section is trapped with the Ghost around the house. Although they fight off the insurgents, there is no support available, and the Canadians are pinned down. After Travis, a member of Sanders' section, is shot in the head by a sniper, the section decides to relocate into the house under heavy enemy fire.

As they move, they run into an IED, incapacitating the section, and only Sanders and the Ghost survive. Recognizing there is no escape, Sanders calls for an artillery strike on his location to eliminate the insurgents. After apologizing for the last time to Bowman, who desperately tries to countermand the order, Sanders tells the Ghost that he was going to be a father, something the Ghost appears to understand despite his not speaking English. Moments later, the artillery rounds hit the house obliterating Sanders, the Ghost, and many of the Taliban insurgents around them.

Later, Canadian troops rescue numerous Afghan children, including the Ghost's granddaughters, having acted on the Cleaner's information and other assets. The film ends with the ramp ceremony for Sanders and his section as Mitchell talks about how things will eventually get better, in the long term.



Hyena Road received average reviews from critics, scoring 57% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 23 reviews.[4] In Canada, Kate Taylor gave the film three stars in The Globe and Mail, complimenting it and director Paul Gross for gripping war depictions with realistic performances.[5] Peter Howell of The Toronto Star awarded it three stars, judging it to have "a questioning tone" and a realistic portrayal of the Canadian Forces.[6]

In the United States, Daniel M. Gold of The New York Times found the film lacked emotional involvement but carried a message about why Afghanistan is known as a "graveyard of empires."[7] In Variety, Geoff Berkshire dismissed it as "hardly The Bridge on the River Kwai."[8]

Concurrently with the release of Hyena Road, filmmakers Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson, and Galen Johnson released Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton, an experimental short film nominally billed as a "behind the scenes" look at the making of Hyena Road.[9]


Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
ACTRA Awards 20 February 2016 Outstanding Performance - Male Rossif Sutherland Nominated [10]
Outstanding Performance - Female Christine Horne Nominated
Canadian Screen Awards 13 March 2016 Best Art Direction / Production Design Arv Greywal, Steve Shewchuk and Larry Spittle Nominated [11]
Best Cinematography Karim Hussain Nominated
Best Editing David Wharnsby Nominated
Best Overall Sound Lou Solakofski, Ian Rankin, Joe Morrow, Russ Dyck, Graham Rogers, James Bastable, André Azoubel, Don White and Jack Hereen Won
Best Sound Editing Jane Tattersall, David McCallum, Martin Gwynn Jones, Barry Gilmore, David Evans, David Rose, Brennan Mercer, Ed Douglas, Kevin Banks, Goro Koyama and Andy Malcolm Won
Best Costume Design Katelynd Johnston Nominated
Best Make-up Jayne Dancose, Debra Johnson and Charles Porlier Nominated
Best Visual Effects Phil Jones, Sarah Wormsbecher, Eric Doiron, Anthony DeChellis, Lon Molnar, Geoff D.E. Scott, Nathan Larouche and Mark Fordham Won
Directors Guild of Canada 22 October 2016 Best Director of a Feature Film Paul Gross Won [13]
Best Production Design Arvinder Grewal Nominated [14]
Best Editing David Wharnsby Nominated
Best Sound Editing Jane Tattersall, Kevin Banks, Ed Douglas, David Evans, Barry Gilmore, Martin Gwynn Jones, Dave Rose, David McCallum, Brennan Mercer, Claire Dobson, Krystin Hunter Nominated


  1. ^ "Toronto to open with 'Demolition'; world premieres for 'Trumbo', 'The Program'". ScreenDaily. 28 July 2015. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
  2. ^ Eric Volmers (20 September 2015). "Paul Gross fights for clarity in new war movie Hyena Road". Calgary Herald. Retrieved 23 September 2015.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. ^ "Matthew Fisher reviews the film noting that it is based on the true story of Quebec's 1st Battalion Royal 22e Régiment in 2010, while the film shows PPCLI as the unit involved". National Post. 15 October 2015.
  4. ^ "Hyena Road". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 9 April 2022.
  5. ^ Taylor, Kate (9 October 2015). "Hyena Road: Unprecedented Canadian war film a marvel of quiet authenticity". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  6. ^ Howell, Peter (8 October 2015). "Hyena Road seeks the right path in a war of no signposts: review". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  7. ^ Gold, Daniel M. (10 March 2016). "Review: 'Hyena Road' Follows a Sniper Team in Afghanistan". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  8. ^ Berkshire, Geoff (14 September 2015). "Toronto Film Review: 'Hyena Road'". Variety. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  9. ^ "War epic Hyena Road’s ‘making-of’ film has a unique take". The Globe and Mail, 9 October 2015.
  10. ^ Pinto, Jordan (6 January 2016). "ACTRA Toronto reveals award nominees". Playback. Retrieved 31 July 2021.
  11. ^ Heilbron, Alexandra (19 January 2016). "Canadian Screen nominations announced – Room leads with 11 nods". Tribute. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  12. ^ Szklarski, Cassandra (13 March 2016). "'Room,' 'Hyena Road,' earn wins at Canadian Screen Awards". CTV News. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
  13. ^ Hertz, Barry (22 October 2016). "Paul Gross takes top film honours at Directors Guild of Canada Awards". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
  14. ^ "2016 Directors Guild Of Canada Awards Nominees Announced". CNW Group. 22 June 2016. Retrieved 3 May 2017.

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