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Hyena Road

Hyena Road

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.

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


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 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, Sanders is able to remember that the elder has eyes of two different colours, one brown and the other blue. Mitchell is immediately able to identify the man as "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, 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, stating, "Only a fool accepts a gift without knowing what it's for".

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 states that the entire opium crop was destroyed, 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 son, conceived while both were on leave. Sanders rejoices in this, despite its being a serious problem given military regulations prohibiting fraternization.

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 when he is unable to reveal the location of the girls. 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.

BDK agrees to exchange the girls for Karim. However, 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, fire on BDK as they see BDK's 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, from one of BDK's safehouses, 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.


  • Paul Gross as Captain Pete Mitchell

  • Rossif Sutherland as Warrant Officer Ryan Sanders

  • Clark Johnson as Brigadier General Rilman

  • Allan Hawco as Master Corporal Travis Davidson

  • Christine Horne as Captain Jennifer Bowman

  • David Richmond-Peck as Hickie

  • Jennifer Pudavick as Mary

  • Aqqalu Meekis as Wolf

  • Neamat Arghandabi as the Ghost

  • Nabil Elouahabi as Haji Baba


Hyena Road received average reviews from critics, scoring 55% on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 22 reviews.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5]

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."[6] In Variety, Geoff Berkshire dismissed it as "hardly The Bridge on the River Kwai."[7]

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.[8]


AwardsDate of ceremonyCategoryRecipient(s)ResultRef(s)
Canadian Screen Awards13 March 2016Best Art Direction / Production DesignArv Greywal, Steve Shewchuk and Larry SpittleNominated[9]
Best CinematographyKarim HussainNominated
Best EditingDavid WharnsbyNominated
Best Overall SoundLou Solakofski, Ian Rankin, Joe Morrow, Russ Dyck, Graham Rogers, James Bastable, André Azoubel, Don White and Jack HereenWon
Best Sound EditingJane Tattersall, David McCallum, Martin Gwynn Jones, Barry Gilmore, David Evans, David Rose, Brennan Mercer, Ed Douglas, Kevin Banks, Goro Koyama and Andy MalcolmWon
Best Costume DesignKatelynd JohnstonNominated
Best Make-UpJayne Dancose, Debra Johnson and Charles PorlierNominated
Best Visual EffectsPhil Jones, Sarah Wormsbecher, Eric Doiron, Anthony DeChellis, Lon Molnar, Geoff D.E. Scott, Nathan Larouche and Mark FordhamWon
Directors Guild of Canada22 October 2016Best Director of a Feature FilmPaul GrossWon[11]
Best Production DesignArvinder GrewalNominated[12]
Best EditingDavid WharnsbyNominated
Best Sound EditingJane Tattersall, Kevin Banks, Ed Douglas, David Evans, Barry Gilmore, Martin Gwynn Jones, Dave Rose, David McCallum, Brennan Mercer, Claire Dobson, Krystin HunterNominated


Citation Linkwww.screendaily.com"Toronto to open with 'Demolition'; world premieres for 'Trumbo', 'The Program'". ScreenDaily. 28 July 2015. Retrieved 28 July 2015.
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkcalgaryherald.comEric Volmers (20 September 2015). "Paul Gross fights for clarity in new war movie Hyena Road". Calgary Herald. Retrieved 23 September 2015.
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkwww.rottentomatoes.com"Hyena Road (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkwww.theglobeandmail.comTaylor, Kate (9 October 2015). "Hyena Road: Unprecedented Canadian war film a marvel of quiet authenticity". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkwww.thestar.comHowell, Peter (8 October 2015). "Hyena Road seeks the right path in a war of no signposts: review". The Toronto Star. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkwww.nytimes.comGold, Daniel M. (10 March 2016). "Review: 'Hyena Road' Follows a Sniper Team in Afghanistan". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkvariety.comBerkshire, Geoff (14 September 2015). "Toronto Film Review: 'Hyena Road'". Variety. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkwww.theglobeandmail.com"War epic Hyena Road’s ‘making-of’ film has a unique take". The Globe and Mail, 9 October 2015.
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkwww.tribute.caHeilbron, Alexandra (19 January 2016). "Canadian Screen nominations announced – Room leads with 11 nods". Tribute. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkwww.ctvnews.caSzklarski, Cassandra (13 March 2016). "'Room,' 'Hyena Road,' earn wins at Canadian Screen Awards". CTV News. Retrieved 13 March 2017.
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkwww.theglobeandmail.comHertz, Barry (22 October 2016). "Paul Gross takes top film honours at Directors Guild of Canada Awards". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkwww.newswire.ca"2016 Directors Guild Of Canada Awards Nominees Announced". CNW Group. 22 June 2016. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkhyenaroad.caOfficial website
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkwww.imdb.comHyena Road
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkwww.imfdb.orgHyena Road
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkwww.screendaily.com"Toronto to open with 'Demolition'; world premieres for 'Trumbo', 'The Program'"
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkcalgaryherald.com"Paul Gross fights for clarity in new war movie Hyena Road"
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkwww.rottentomatoes.com"Hyena Road (2016)"
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkwww.theglobeandmail.com"Hyena Road: Unprecedented Canadian war film a marvel of quiet authenticity"
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM
Citation Linkwww.thestar.com"Hyena Road seeks the right path in a war of no signposts: review"
Sep 30, 2019, 4:01 PM