“Flyboys” puts on a dazzling air show
When was the last time you went to the movies and saw a good old fashioned feel-good military adventure film? If “Flyboys” continues to flail at the box office we will be reminded why Hollywood doesn’t produce many films in this genre. Assailed by critics as clich? ridden and melodramatic, “Flyboys” is in fact a stirring, engaging, heart-pumping World War l saga about the 38 Americans who in 1917 volunteered for service in the French military before the U.S. entered the war.
The film certainly gets points for originality. It’s not a sequel, it’s not based on a TV show, and the flying is all performed in biplanes– no capes or superpowers involved. Though its clear focus is on the bravery of the soldiers involved, it’s as family-friendly as a war movie can be these days, relying on the daring of its amazing aerial sequences rather than carnage or vulgarity to promote its authenticity.
The squadron known as “Lafayette Escadrille” was a rag-tag, diverse group of young men, many of whom had never flown before. James Franco (“Spider-Man”), one of the few recognizable faces in the movie, is the story’s pretty-boy, tough American rancher who enlists after the family farm forecloses. Each of his comrades has his story, but “Flyboys” is not so much about character development as it is about the mission at hand. We can forgive Franco’s modern day hair highlights because the film is acutely accurate in so many other details. The newly invented bi and tri planes of the era (no parachutes!) are meticulously replicated, and there are an impressive number of spectacular dogfights, each one unique and compelling.
Sub-plots involving a budding romance with a young French girl (Jennifer Decker) and a brooding veteran pilot who owns a lion cub (Martin Henderson of “The Ring”) keep the action on the ground interesting. Though cutting the film by 20 minutes or so would have improved it, credit director Tony Bill (“Untamed Heart,” “My Bodyguard”) for superb attention to detail and not trying to make the smaller stories larger than necessary.
For the last 20 years, military films have primarily focused on the gritty realities of conflict. The best of these, including “Saving Private Ryan,” “Schindler’s List,” and “Black Hawk Down,” illustrate man’s struggle to find humanity within war’s insanity. But not unlike the war stories Grandpa used to tell you, “Flyboys” harks to another era where nostalgia trumped bitterness and the themes were more about the thrill of victory and less about the agony of defeat.
Sadly, they don’t give awards to this kind of movie anymore. So, we’ll have to just enjoy them, despite their minor flaws, on the rare occasion they come around. Next time Grandpa tells you a great war story, thank him. And take him to see “Flyboys.”
Note: This film is not the film “The Flyboys” directed by Rocco DeVilliers that contained scenes shot here in St. George, which was scheduled to be released this fall.
Rated PG-13 for war action and some sexual content.