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Film Two Stars

From the start my hackles were up over this film and I was fighting an instant reaction. What with American films rewriting war history before, with different nationalities taking victories, other nationalities ignored, and generally changing events for a more Hollywood cinematic film, I thought this might follow the same way.

Flyboys is a film about the true story of the Lafayette Escadrille, a French squadron of fighter pilots who fought in World War I, yet they weren't all French. The majority of the squadron was made up of American volunteers fighting for the French.

FlyBoys.jpgThe idea was that this might encourage more Americans to join the way, and if there were enough perhaps this would persuade the country to enter the war. Certainly it was responsible for gaining more volunteers and the squadron had to form a Flying Corps to cope with all the intake of volunteers.

Two hundred and sixty five American volunteers served in the Corps, and they entire squadron gained some impressive wins. From the Wikipedia entry:

31 Croix de guerre, and its pilots were awarded seven Médailles militaires and four Légions d'honneur. Eleven of its members were flying aces. The core squadron suffered nine losses and was credited with 34 victories…Sixty-three members died during the war.

The film's story has a small group of pilots joining the squadron as all but the previous squadron leader remains. He's an embittered man who seems possessed with avenging the death of his friends in his squadron.

When the new pilots arrive they had never flown and were shunned by the previous Squadron Leader and the other pilots. They must prove themselves through flying, but it doesn't turn out to be that easy and the reality of death in the air is brought home time and time again.

Straight up I have to say that I watched this on a very poor screener. The contrast ratio was 2.35:1 and seemed incorrect for the film, the contrast and colours were very poor in the digital transfer, and you could see the poor digital transfer showing around the letters in the titles. Add to that the fact that it was merely stereo for the audio and it wasn't very impressive.

So with that I can hardly comment on the picture or the audio, although I will say that the CGI air battles between the biplanes of the French Air Force and the triplanes of the German Air Force are superbly crafted.

These scenes build tension wonderfully, and I did find myself with tightened hands and holding my breath during some of these battles, because they are so wonderfully created.

It's an amazing thing to see these planes fighting together, but there is a difficulty in keeping up with who is fighting who and which of the American pilots are currently in frame being shot at, or are looking in danger.

The performances are okay, but that's more down to the romanticism of the material more than anything. It's hard to get a dramatic performance out when the material tends to be so light and fluffy. Yet at the key moments when the drama is high, James Franco has a tendancy to just scowl at the camera during these. Martin Henderson plays it better, and Jean Reno plays it for the comedy, since there's not much else his character appears to be there for.

The story itself is very entertaining, although what you will find is it is incredibly twee and follows just about every script convention there is. You can see what's going to happen before it actually does, and in some cases I was ten to twenty minutes ahead of the story.

The setups are very transparent and it is only the very end with the titles showing the character post film stories that show a hint of something away from the standard plot, however it is just for one of the characters and the rest all follow paths that you would expect as soon as they are introduced earlier on.

There are some incredibly groan worthy moments, and some that stretch physics and imagination, but still it is entertaining. Entertaining in the style of Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, where the plot is emotionally manipulative, follows proven convention, and packs the punch in the big scale effects.

However there is one area I really have to give the film a nod for, the push away from these types of films towards realism. Although the life of these guys has been glorified and made much more comfortable and glamorous, there are elements of the battles which hammer home just how tough their job was.

The scene with the hammers and the pistols is one of those moments on the ground, but in the air it was much more apparent. Although there's nothing particularly gruesome or horrific, there are moments of intensity that do bring home how incredibly dangerous it was for any pilot in the air. It also brings home how throwaway their lives were, and how much it was down to luck that they survived.

An interesting omission in the film is that the squadron was originally called Escadrille américaine, but after Germany filed a protest with America it was renamed. This was because the use of the term américaine which implied that America were no longer impartial in the war and had joined alliances with France.

Oh, and the squadron really did indeed have two lion cubs as mascots.

Overall the film is light entertainment with an edge of reality to the aerial battles which are dramatically and wonderfully recreated. Apart from that expect an overly transparent and romanticised storyline that plays it by the numbers.

IMDB UK Film Details



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