Thursday, November 13, 2008


Flyboys came out in 2006, quickly getting panned as inaccurate and formulaic. The major studios declined the opportunity to back this film which ended up going into production with private funding. The 60 million dollar budget was not wisely invested, with a return that would lucky to hit half that. This movie did not appeal to me at the time it was in the theaters, maybe in small part due to the reviews but more likely due to other movies that were higher on my must-see list at the time. Inevitably, I did not get a chance to catch this film in the theaters, waiting instead until it came out on DVD.

While watching Flyboys I could understand some of the critical comments, but was actually surprised that it is was so widely disliked. One thing that appealed to me about Flyboys was the fact that it was based on a true story. That limits the directions that the movie can go. Within that context evolves a period piece that tells the story of young Americans who agree to enter the Great War flying fighter planes for the French at a time when America had not yet entered the fray.

Flyboys starts by providing short background biographies on the American Pilots, concentrating primarily on Blaine Rawlings (James Franco), a young rancher whose parents are dead. Following foreclosure on his ranch, Rawlings decides to join the Lafayette Escadrille, a volunteer air force in France comprised of Americans who wanted to enter the war before the United States committed. Rawlings is joined by other young men from various walks of life. Among them are a black boxer named Vernon Toddman (Keith McErlean) and Briggs Lowry (Tyler Labine) a Harvard dropout who refuses to bunk with Toddman due to his race. Other pilots include Reed Cassidy (Martin Henderson) who was based on Raoul Lufbery, Eddie Beagle (David Ellison) whose character was an amalgam of pilots Courtney Campbell and Bert Hall, Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis) based on Eugene Bullard and William Jensen (Philip Winchester) whose exploits were taken from a variety of sources. These young pilots end up under the tutelage of Capt Thenault (Jean Reno). Thenault was an actual character. Thenault trains the young pilots to fly, land and shoot. They quickly end up engaging German fighters in some great aerial fighting sequences. The pilots engage in numerous missions as they await the United States entry into the war. The movie ends with correlations between the characters and events following the war that the characters engaged in. Some of the events were based on the true stories of the pilots upon whom some of the characters were based. However, it appears that some of the stories were complete fabrications.

The script isn’t bad. Although the critics aptly pointed out that this film falls into formulaic period piece pitfalls, I disagree with the assessment of the dialogue. The dialogue in this movie has been referred to as unoriginal or hackneyed, but I found it to be enjoyable. It did not feel contrived or overused. If they had attempted to outgun Top Gun I might have felt that way. However, this story stays within the framework of the endeavors of the 124th Air Squadron with obvious liberties taken along the way. I thought that the characters were developed to an adequate degree, especially considering the number of individuals involved. We get brief insights into the backgrounds of several characters through various sub-plots or personality conflicts. These sub-plots add to the overall effect of the film, providing depth to the characters, helping them connect with the audience. I have seen better, but Flyboys wasn’t as tired as the critics made it sound. The movie lasted nearly two and a half hours, which was a bit long, so the pacing was definitely an area which could have been improved. I think the Director (Tony Bill) may have tried to squeeze in too much information.

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