In 1916, before the US becomes involved in World War I, several young Americans volunteer as trainee pilots in the new French flying corps, the Escadrille Lafayette. Blaine Rawlings (James Franco), a Texan evicted from his family's ranch, joins ace flyer Reed Cassidy (Martin Henderson)'s squadron, along with newcomers Higgings (Christien Anhold), William Jensen (Philip Winchester), Briggs Lowry (Tyler Labine), Eddie Beagle (David Ellison) and black American boxer Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis). Under Captain Georges Thenault (Jean Reno), they are readied for deadly aerial combat against highly trained German pilots in superior Fokker aircraft. Rawlings even finds hope and love in a chance meeting with local French lass Lucienne (Jennifer Decker).
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Romanticised battles and chivalry, heroic deeds and brutal deaths, these are the elements that Flyboys flies by, a thrilling adventure from the pages of history, tinged with the sadness of it all. That bitter-sweet, melancholy mood is what makes the film more than a boys' own adventure, in which the good guys shoot down the bad guys.
Apart from the fact that the film is based on real events that are little remembered these days, it's a superbly crafted film that never lets us see the secrets of it digital magic as mosquito sized biplanes (the French Nieuport 17) sting the German Fokkers in aerial combat footage that gives the film its most intense moments, often giving us heart-pumping in-flight close ups of men and machines.
But the film's greatest achievement is its ability to establish so many key characters, complete with backstories and the nuances of unique profiles. This gives us a chance to make connections that are the control-strands that the drama then pulls and manipulates for emotional satisfaction.
James Franco and Martin Henderson carry much of the film's emotional charge and do so with great balance between courage and vulnerability, and the entire corps, including Jean Reno's sensible and likeable commanding officer, make us feel involved and engaged. Young Jennifer Decker's pretty Lucienne is charming and her role is a clever touch, adding a broader sense of reality to the basic story.
Flyboys is a terrific war movie, partly because it's different to most war movies and partly because it has such heart.
Review by Louise Keller:
It's the man, not the machine that matters, Jean Reno's French Captain tells his team of new recruits, as the group of tentative young Americans volunteers train for their first aerial combat. But they are also told the realities of their predicament: a life expectancy of three weeks. In this age of space shuttles and sophisticated flying jets, it is almost inconceivable to consider the vulnerability of the flimsy biplanes used during World War I and the young men who flew them. Based on real events and paying tribute to The Lafayette Escadrille, Flyboys is both buddy movie and boys own adventure with crossover appeal. The film is at its soaring best when we are in the cockpit high above the clouds, where the freedom of the skies is a sharp contrast to the restrictions and dangers of war.
When the group of men from various parts of America arrive at their new base, a French chateau with pet lion, they have no idea what is in store. While the script touches on the emotional angst of the negro boxer tired of racial discrimination (Abdul Salis), an oddball with something to hide (David Ellison), and two men pressured by their families' wealth and military tradition (Tyler Labine, Philip Winchester), the focus is on James Franco's Blaine Rawlings who quickly goes from rebel to natural leader. There are pre-flight nerves, combat in unknowable circumstances and the customary drinks at the end of the day from the bottle of death (a swig for each enemy plane downed). Blaine's unexpected meeting with Jennifer Decker's charming Lucienne who lives on a nearby farm, adds a romantic thread, leading him to a daring rescue when the German infantry arrives.
Performances are solid with special mention to Reno and Martin Henderson's squadron leader who is philosophical about the inevitable. Top aerobatic pilots worked with the actors for the all-important flying sequences. Computer generated visual effects coupled with aerial photography make the experience dramatic and real, culminating in a mid-air combat, which becomes all-too-personal. It's a tribute to the heroic young men who battled not only against the enemy, but also against their own demons.
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CAST: James Franco, Martin Henderson, Christian Anhold, Philip Winchester, Tyler Labine, David Ellison, Abdul Salis, Jean Reno, Jennifer Decker, Todd Boyce, Karen Ford, Ruth Bradley, Tim Pigott-Smith, Gail Downey, Augustin Legrand, Keith McErlean, Hazel, Mac McDonald, Gunnar Winbergh
PRODUCER: Dean Devlin, Marc Frydman, Marc Roskin
DIRECTOR: Tony Bill
SCRIPT: Phil Sears, Blake T. Evans, David S. Ward
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Henry Braham
EDITOR: Chris Blunden, Ron Rosen
MUSIC: Trevor Rabin
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Charles Wood
RUNNING TIME: 139 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Magna Pacific
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 15, 2007