– Summary –
Director : Tony Bill
Year Of Release : 2006
Principal Cast : James Franco, Martin Henderson, Jean Reno, Jennifer Decker, Abdul Salis, Philip Winchester, Tyler Labine, David Ellison.
Approx Running Time : 140 Minutes
Synopsis: The story behind the Lafayette Escadrille, an airborne division fighting in World War I.
What we think : Popcorn entertainment based on real world events and people always flirts more with historical inaccuracy than this reviewer would like. Flyboys shoehorns a mid-level romantic angle into a nicely filmed aerial combat film that at times is genuinely exciting, only to get a little lost when things happen on the ground. Technically excellent, yet ultimately dull and insipid, Flyboys should remain grounded for the duration.
Lavishly mounted adventure film starring James Franco as a US farm-boy traveling to war torn France to fly planes against the Germans during WWI, delivers some startlingly good aerial battle sequences, however collapses in a heap when the drama plays out on the ground.
Effectively a love story to the Lafayette Escadrille in France during the time, these pioneering pilots flew biplane’s through the skies of France to defeat the Germans. Franco delivers a slightly wooden and emotionless performance as Rawlings, a gun pilot who overcomes his initial trepidation to become the groups ace flyer.
Flyboys is directed with limited dramatic skill by Tony Bill, best known as producer of The Sting, the 70’s movie starring Robert Redford and Paul Newman, and while he may have felt it was a good idea to show the bravery of these American boys during the first world war, perhaps he should have spent more time developing a decent script. The action, firstly, is superbly done, although missing some really dazzling music to accompany it most of the way through the film. The CGI effects, which are staggeringly realistic for almost the entire film, are well integrated into the green-screen live action, and you are never once pulled out of the movie. The action is rapid and well edited, the dogfights in the skies confusing at times (which it must have been at the time) and well choreographed.
But it’s the drama itself that’s suprisingly limp: the deaths of major characters, heck, even ancillary ones, are treated as though it’s hardy worth a mention. Planes fall from the sky, explode, spin and catch fire all over the screen, yet the people in them are given the barest attention by the editing team. The drama on the ground, in particular, is sadly lacking, with Franco and Martin Henderson delivering some woefully wooden lines as best they can: it’s not enough. Poor Jennifer Decker, as love interest Lucienne, barely speaks a word of English and her English accent is so bad it stunts the dramatic flow of the story when she appears. Yes, she’s certainly radiant as Franco’s French love, but hardly able to prop up this wooden, empty plotline as it deserves. It all rings a bit hollow, to be honest.
Jean Reno pops up in a token role as the French commander of the pilot squadron, which, while certainly amusing most of the time, hardly adds anything new to his oeuvre.
The central themes of the film seem confused, with the film trying to promote racism, bigotry and depression in equal parts, but failing wholeheartedly to do any of them justice. It’s quite disappointing. Perhaps it’s the lack of depth afforded to the supporting cast (none of whom really get much time to shine, with the exception of Tyler Labine, who plays wayward rich-boy Briggs Lowry, who is perhaps the best part of the film!) that create such a lack of feeling within the film, which runs at a little over two hours. For such a long film, there’s very little emotional content available.
But the action sequences are dynamic, thrilling and well executed, something the filmmakers should be commended for.
They are not, however, able to prop up what is an otherwise forgettable Sunday-afternoon-TV romp that would have been better served being a TV miniseries, which is kind of what it feels like at times. Flyboys is dedicated, but ultimately unfulfilling.