Flyboys (2006)

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Review #255 of 365
Film: Flyboys (2006) [PG-13] 139 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $13.25
Where Viewed: Harkins Cine Capri at Northfield 18, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 23 September 2006
Time: 10:00 p.m.

Directed by: Tony Bill (episodes of "Keen Eddie" and "Monk")
Screenplay by: Phil Sears, Blake T. Evans, and David S. Ward
Story by: Blake T. Evans

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
James Franco (Annapolis & Tristan + Isolde) • Philip Winchester (Thunderbirds) • Abdul Salis (Sahara) • Tyler Labine ("Invasion") • David Ellison (The Chumscrubber) • Jean Reno (The Da Vinci Code & The Pink Panther) • Keith McErlean (Recoil) • Martin Henderson (The Ring) • Lex Shrapnel (Breakfast on Pluto & Thunderbirds) • Jennifer Decker (Jeune homme)

Soundtrack: order the CD soundtrack below

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
With spectacular aerial battle scenes, a charming international love story, and honorable, young USAers with stars in their eyes volunteering to fight for the French in WWI against the invading Germans, Academy Award®-winning (as producer for The Sting) director, Tony Bill, has all of the right stuff for the fall's first glorious epic film, Flyboys. Inspired by the true events of the Lafayette Escadrille, an elite unit of pilots who pioneered the use of the very first airplanes in battle against the German flying aces, the film succeeds where others have failed because it takes the time to develop the characters of the young men to a degree that we find ourselves grief-stricken when any one of them is killed in battle. This essential ingredient makes Flyboys one of the best heroic war epics in ages. Plus, the aerial acrobatic fight scenes are, quite simply, stunning.

"…a feel-good-in-the-end war movie with outstanding flying special effects and a couple of good war heroes to idolize."
For many of my generation, WWI is nearly a forgotten war. High school history teachers tend to teach the two great wars right in a row, and the themes with Hitler and the Holocaust so vastly outweighing any of the atrocities of WWI that the events of the WWI either become commingled with those of WWII or lost. Flyboys serves as good inspiration for us all to go back and review the events of the war and remember that, unfortunately, the world did not learn enough from the first one not to find itself entangled again a few decades later in an even more horrific war. In specifics, Flyboys's screenwriters bring the story to life via the lives of volunteers Blain Rawlings (James Franco), a recently orphaned young man who found himself unable to pay the debts of his family ranch; William Jensen (Phililp Winchester), son of a second generation military officer seeking to prove he belongs; Lyle Porter (Michael Jibson), Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis), son of slaves, he went to France to escape bigotry, became a pro boxer, and volunteered to learn the new skill of piloting and to protect the country that had been good to him; Briggs Lowry (Tyler Labine), the wealthy son of socialites whose father felt volunteering would be a life-changing experience for his Harvard, drop-out son; and Reed Cassidy (Martin Henderson) the leader of the squadron with a mysterious past and no friends. Captain Thenault (Jean Reno) serves as the commanding officer of the Escadrille and the pilot's trainer. The film begins with a taste of the back story on each of the main flyboys. Then they arrive in France without speaking the language and no idea were to go or how to get there. There is a sense of instantaneous culture shock for each of them, but nothing compared to what they are in for once they get to the base and start learning to fly.

This is a remarkable story filled with wonderful little touches along the way. The character of every young man gets tested, preconceived notions are shattered, and courage and confidence develop. They start off babies and literally become men. And, while they have a hankering for the taste of shooting down the enemy, they get a dose of reality when some of their comrades fail to fly home with them to base at the end of each battle. The story shows us how they become a cohesive unit beyond racial and socioeconomic barriers. It also gives a small taste as to what their social lives are beyond their training and flying into the sights of the guns of the enemy. As they are foreign fighters wearing the uniform of the French, they are housed in cushy surroundings paid for by a wealthy benefactor rather than in the trenches, tents, or barracks of the regular English and French pilots. The gravity of the missions they are given, however, appear in the film to be as grave as any given, and believe it, many die in the film. The film also refreshes the horror of war where real people, civilians and military people alike are killed, their homes obliterated, and their history wiped out. While the story if filled with heroes who put their lives on the line to save others on a daily basis, chiefly featured among them is the story of Blaine Rawlings—the kid from Aberdeen, Texas whose parents died leaving him the family's ranch and all the debt to maintain.

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He leaves Texas for France after the Sherrif alerts him to the issuing of a bench warrant for his arrest for beating up the local banker who initiates the foreclosing on his ranch. He arrives at the base with a Texas-sized swagger, already believing he's the best among the volunteers. Unlike Franco's character in Annapolis, here he doesn't have a huge chip on his shoulder, that the military needs to knock off. The French need him to be confident, and he has only to prove himself in the air—which he does. He also proves to be among the best marksmen in the group. A crash-landing by a buddy he is trying to teach to shoot, lands them both in a bordello when ladies from the house find them in a field and nurse them back to health. One young woman named Lucienne (Jennifer Decker) takes an instant liking to Blaine and he to her. He later returns to try and find her, when he learns that she was just a delivery girl, not one of the staff. His heart delights at the news, and he travels by borrowed horse to her home outside the village to find her. As she speaks all of about 10 words of English which is 9 more than he speaks of French, the two struggle to communicate, but Blaine never gives up. The two seem to be a match made in heaven. The only problem is that she doesn't really want to fall in love with a pilot whose life expectancy is rated at 3-6 weeks. Nonetheless, he does everything he can to keep up their relationship, and he eventually puts his 'career' in jeopardy trying to rescue her and her, her neice, and her nephews in charge of whom the war has made her. Meanwhile, the 'flying knights' have encountered repeatedly a German flying ace called The Black Falcon (Gunnar Winbergh) who serves as their arch nemesis. While several aspects of the story are marginally predictable, this is one that is definitely predictable, eventually, Blaine will have to go wing to wing with The Black Falcon. Who will win? Well, whose face is on the poster? As you are probably starting to gather from all this, as unusual as it might sound to be saying this, if the plot/story has any flaw, it's probably a bit overly ambitious for the time allotted. For a mini-series, sure, but for a two-hour film, there's just too much. It makes for a a very exciting film, but there is not as much depth to some aspects of the story as there otherwise could have been. It's still an amazing story and great fun, but it's not as powerful as it could have been in some ways.

Arriving at this conclusion was directly related to the realization that analyzing the acting was a bit tough. The cast is borderline ensemble in structure with the exception of James Franco's character. So, analyzing the acting of anyone in an ensemble cast is always tough. When one combines that with a story this huge with so much going on, that part is only made more difficult. Of course, the challenge is huge for the actors as well because if they don't find ways to make their characters stand out, they risk starting to blend together. There is, unfortunately, a little of this with three-leading blond-haired actors and a couple of more thrown in later when they have to replenish the squadron because too many have been killed. Nonetheless, each of these actors does a very good job of building their characters in the short screen times allotted each. Of course, Franco stands out as does New Zealander, Martin Henderson. Jean Reno looks like he's having more fun with this role than he did in The Pink Panther (2006). He serves the men as their commander, their father, their uncle, their mentor, their guide, their sage, and their motivator. Moreover, he's their only connection between the their English and their non-existent French. Overall, the cast does a terrific job handling these roles.

As a film, in total, Flyboys is an inspirational new war film with relevant consciousness-raising aspects. The plot is a tad overly ambitious and, while the writers and actors do their best to make each character unique and stand out, they did not win on every character. This is, mostly, a feel-good-in-the-end war movie with outstanding flying special effects and a couple of good war heroes to idolize.

Related Products from
Other Projects Featuring Flyboys (2006) Cast Members
James FrancoPhilip WinchesterMichael Jibson
Abdul SalisTyler LabineDavid Ellison
Jean RenoKeith McErleanMartin Henderson
Lex ShrapnelJennifer Decker
Other Projects Involving Flyboys (2006) Director
Tony Bill
Books about the Lafayette Escadrille
Lafayette Escadrille
CD Soundtrack

Flyboys (2006) Review-lite [150-word cap]
With spectacular aerial battle scenes, a charming international love story, and honorable, young USAers with stars in their eyes volunteering to fight for the French in WWI against the Germans, Academy Award®-winning director, Tony Bill, has all the right stuff for fall's first epic film, Flyboys. Inspired by true events of the Lafayette Escadrille, an elite unit of pilots who pioneered the use of airplanes against the German flying aces, the film succeeds better because it takes some time to develop the characters of the men. Chief among them is Blaine Rawlings (James Franco), an orphaned young man who loses his family ranch to foreclosure, and leaves Aberdeen, Texas, swagger intact, to avoid facing the law. This essential ingredient makes Flyboys one of the better heroic war epics in ages. Unfortunately, the overly ambitious script prevents the depth necessary to make the film as significant as it might have been.

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