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|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E||
dir Tony Bill|
scr Phil Sears, Blake T Evans, David S Ward
with James Franco, Martin Henderson, Jean Reno, Jennifer Decker, Abdul Salis, Tyler Labine, David Ellison, Philip Winchester, Michael Jibson, Pip Pickering, Augustin Legrand, Tim Pigott-Smith
release US 22.Sep.06, UK 1.Jun.07
06/US MGM 2h18
Love and war: Decker and Franco
Based on real events, this well-produced, engaging film somewhat overreaches itself, trying to turn a crackling adventure into a sweeping emotional epic.
In 1916, before the USA entered the Great War, seven young Americans volunteer for the Lafayette Escadrille, taking on German flying aces in hand-made French biplanes. A hotshot Texan (Franco) takes the alpha-male position, falling for a local girl (Decker) and winning the respect of the veteran loner hero (Henderson) and the captain (Reno), despite his rule-flouting ways. The team includes a fiercely gifted African-American (Salis), a posh kid (Labine) trying to prove himself, a boy (Ellison) with a shady past, a priest (Jibson) and a guy (Winchester) unprepared for the horrors of battle.
Bill directs this like a massive war movie--slick cinematography, seamless effects, lush score, whizzy editing and impeccably detailed production design. Even if it's thoroughly airbrushed and squeaky clean, the film looks fantastic, and the actors physically inhabit their roles beautifully. So it's frustrating that the movie's so dull and plodding, only snapping to life in the first aerial battle scene. Fortunately, this injects some badly needed energy and just about keeps us hooked until the even bigger, more exciting action scenes that follow.
As the film follows the personal development of each character, there's nothing hugely original going on. But the actors win us over with sheer charm, gamely smirking through the feeble comedy and corny dialog while giving the heroic scenes an offhanded authenticity. In other words, it's deeply simplistic, but it works. Franco is a likeable central swashbuckler, while Henderson provides some brooding acting chops and Reno keeps things grounded with his sardonic humour. The best surprise is Salis' energetic, fiery turn--definitely an actor to watch.
The plot groans under the weight of its blockbuster structure, with a full half-hour left after the spectacular climax in which the squadron takes on a German zeppelin over Paris. We know that revenge and catharsis and even more senseless death will follow (the average life expectancy for WWI pilots was six weeks). But this overlong film is only occasionally sharp or inventive enough to deserve the terrific story it's telling.
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© 2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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