Retro Review: Flyboys

There have been so many movies made about World War II and so many of them are considered classics.

Films like “The Guns of Navarone”, “Midway”, “Dirty Dozen” and “Saving Private Ryan” are all considered classics of the war genre. But where are the classics when you talk about World War I and why hasn’t Hollywood given us more brilliant films about that conflict as well.

You have to go really far back before you can see classic films about World War I. The real classics about World War I were made before World War II struck American shores. You have classics like 1929’s “Wings” and 1930’s “All Quiet on the Western Front”. Both are fondly remembered as Best Picture winners but especially “Wings” since it was the first film ever to win an Oscar for Best Picture.

Like “Wings”, the infamous Howard Hughes directed epic “Hell’s Angels” from 1930 also electrified audiences with aerial combat sequences involving flying aces of World War I. But since those two films, flying aces from World War I have never really been explored again for mainstream audiences.

This brings us to “Flyboys” which reawakens the fascination with the flying ace and puts us back in the cockpit with the pilots as they struggle in death-defying aerial combat.

“Flyboys” tells the true story of the Lafayette Escadrille Flying Squadron who defended France during the early stages of World War I. The squadron recruited men from around the world to become fighter pilots.

Some of those men were Americans like Texas rancher Blaine Rawlings (played in the film by James Franco).

The film chronicles the story of the squadron as many men died as the newly invented airplane was commissioned as a war machine.

I have always been a fan of epic movie making. I marvel at the scope, grandeur and execution of films made in that scale. Hollywood seems to have lost the art of making the epic without bombarding it with an all-star cast, goops of CGI and no heart. Basically in recent years, many epics have been transformed from a grand-scale adventure film to a brainless popcorn movie.

For me, “Flyboys” reminded me of all those epics of yesteryear and how I used to embrace what they were. I also loved the fact that the film didn’t star any Hollywood heavyweights like a Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise and wasn’t directed by Michael Bay. The film felt quaint and passionate opposed to crisp and stylized. I loved the film’s vision and what tried to accomplish. If it were me I would say that it accomplished everything it set out to do in spades.

Except for James Franco and Jean Reno, I would say I found a lot of the acting to be wooden and sometimes forced but it also added to the flavor the film was trying to accomplish. Does it really matter if these actors aren’t professionals as long as the mood and passion is there?

The star of the film are the out-of-this-world aerial dogfight sequences that electrify the screen every time they are on. I know there is a lot of CGI up there but it didn’t really matter because it showcased how thrilling, daring and crazy those pilots truly were.

The film is directed by Tony Bill, who seems to be quite the Hollywood player. Bill produced the Academy Award winning film “The Sting” in 1973, has acted in everything from “Bonanza” to “Less Than Zero” to “Must Love Dogs” and has directed such underrated films like 1990’s “Crazy People” and 1993’s “Untamed Heart”. Bill has literally been doing everything in Hollywood since he arrived in the early 1960s.

I really loved “Flyboys” and I really think that Howard Hughes would have been proud if could have seen this film.

4 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer.

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