Flyboys Review (Alex's Take)
by Alex Billington
September 22, 2006
Flyboys is the retelling of a true story from World War I, a historical era not often explored by Hollywood. The story surrounds the French flying squadron known as the Lafayette Escadrille and the small group of American pilots who joined and risked their lives flying some of the earliest planes ever built. Flyboys brings to life the story of a number of characters, based on real pilots in the squadron, including the wealthy yet dedicated Briggs Lowry (Tyler Labine), African-American boxer Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis), and ace pilot / lion tamer Reed Cassidy (Martin Henderson); however the primary focus is on Blaine Rawlings (James Franco), a Texan without a family.
The strength of Flyboys lies in the fact that it is one of very few war history movies that is true to the real life story of the Lafayette Escadrille, yet it still remains unique and not bland. Hollywood often spends too much time on WWII and releases much quieter and lesser known WWI movies, however Flyboys is the first of its kind recent history to break those bounds and stand out. Although the plot is what really brings down the experience of Flyboys, the dog fighting realism is what makes it enjoyable. Every fight scene in the sky and fight on the ground is incredibly intense, from the pilots' nervousness to the visual effects and cinematography. These action sequences were beautifully created and truly represent the real experience of the Lafayette Escadrille fights in superb style.
The story in Flyboys dwells too often on minor moments and boring interactions in the squadron, lacking the same energy in both acting and directing that was visible during action sequences. Although the story makes an attempt at exploring the lives of the young Americans, it lacks so much effort or concern that it becomes a bore. The most unnecessary addition is that of a romance between a young French girl and Rawlings. However, everything that occurred in the romance story felt clichÃ©d and cheesy; the romance didn't deserve the length of screen time that it received. Flyboys could have been an otherwise exciting and enjoyable film without it.
The action scenes in the air, while superb, were the only truly enjoyable moments. Between fight scenes I would find myself yearning to see the pilots hop in the cockpit, fire up the engine, and soar into the sky for some more action. Up in the air the characters didn't say much due to the engine noise, guaranteeing no cheesy lines and eye-rolling moments to detract from visual effects producer Mark Franco's excellent work.
James Franco's performance as Blaine Rawlings was quite unentertaining. Although I am confident in Franco's ability to deliver a solid performance, his acting in Flyboys was nothing but a cheesy play on a stereotypical Texan without even a consistent vocal accent. I don't know whether to fault the writing or Franco himself. The positive side of the acting realm came from Jean Reno as the inspirational and wise Captain Thenault, a character who did not demonstrate the cheesy aspects that I saw in much of the ensemble.
Flyboys is a mediocre film at best with great action sequences that will satisfy most, but with nothing further to offer. Featuring a rather unnecessary love story, cheesy lines and rough screenwriting, there isn't much to walk away with that is worth the ticket price, however the film still delivers an exciting sensory experience. The technology today has allowed them to create fantastic visuals from the WWI flying days that are unmatched by many other movies in recent history, and that alone might be worth the cost of admission.