Those magnificent men in their flying machines …

2008-10-02 08:05

WAR films can never be neutral, and even a film set in a long-ago war, like this one, must be viewed through the lens of current events.

Flyboys is “based on the the true story” of the Lafayette Escadrille of young Americans who went to fly for France before the U.S. entered World War 1.

It's a buddy-ensemble picture, so we get a group of boys each with a different reason for joining the fight. There's the orphaned rancher fallen on hard times (James Franco), the son of a military family looking for a war to prove his courage, the spoiled son of privilege packed off to war by his father, the black American living in France who wants to “give something back”, the enigmatic one no one really knows, and so on.

Thus minimally introduced, they arrive at the airfield, where Hollywood's all-purpose Frenchman, Jean Reno, awaits them.

They are taught to fly, but they also learn lessons about themselves - the rich boy and the black learn to get along, they discover more about the shameful past of the enigmatic one …

But the point of Flyboys isn't the boys, it's the flying. Long stretches of the film are taken up with dogfights as German triplanes scream down to do battle. These are excitingly filmed (or rather, created on a computer), but because our introduction to the fliers has been so perfunctory, it's hard to really care. Terrible things happen but are not really followed up.

Oh, and James Franco, whose brooding prettiness looks set to trap him in movie limbo forever, falls in love with a French girl.

The film is like a recruiting poster for the excitement of war. Very old-fashioned, just with better effects. So one must ask oneself: why was it made now? I think the answer is pretty plain. **

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