Reviewed by: Sheri McMurray
What is the Christian perspective on war? Answer
What are the consequences of racial prejudice and false beliefs about the origin of races? Answer
Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer
What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer
Does God feel our pain? Answer
|Featuring||James Franco, Jean Reno, David Ellison, Martin Henderson, Jennifer Decker|
|Director||Tony Bill (“Chicago Hope,” “Untamed Heart”)|
|Producer||Dean Devlin, Marc Frydman|
A tribute to the American “Escadrille Lafayette”
We have forgotten that for 225 years and more, two great nations—the United States and France—have stood together in the long fight for individual freedom, equality, and intrinsic worth.
In these days of a near anti-patriotic thrust in the American culture, with no respect for (and a bent on insulting) the Presidential office and it’s foreign policies, it is refreshing to see a film which represents our collective hearts as a faithful nation, tied to honor freedom for all—at any cost—which is a truth that existed in the not so distant past.
From the United States, many brave men—volunteers all—made their way to France early on to stand with that nation against Imperial Germany in the Great War of 1914-1918, known to history as World War 1.
By 1917, the Allied powers of France, England, Italy, and others were nearly overwhelmed as they fought against the German military, whom at that time had been extremely well trained. Some altruistic young Americans disagreed with the German malice and the oppression of that war. They volunteered to fight alongside their counterparts in France; some in the infantry, some in the Ambulance Corps.
A handful of others had a different idea: they decided to learn how to fly! The first of them—a squadron of only 38—became known as the Lafayette Escadrille. “Flyboys” is their story.
Based on actual events, the names of the aviators in this film are not listed in any historical record, although the Lafayette Escadrille Flying Corps was a bona fide reality. It’s existence is backed by books, bios, cartoons, an exhibit in the New England Air Museum, and numerous Web sites. The most commanding of all, is the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial—erected in a park outside of Paris and midway to Versailles.
A young Texan, in trouble with the local law and floundering to hang onto an over-mortgaged family ranch, sees a newsreel chronicling the adventures of young aviators in France. At a small train station in rural Nebraska, a young naive boy promises to make his family proud. In New York, a spoiled upstart embarks on a trans-Atlantic passage that will change his family’s view of him forever. Meanwhile, in France, a black expatriate boxer, vows to repay his debt to his adopted racially-tolerant country. Together, these American boys arrive at an aerodrome in France, eager to be involved. What they didn’t realize was that they were about to embark on a great, romantic adventure, becoming the world’s first combat pilots.
Blaine Rawlings (ever endearing, “Spiderman” alum James Franco) leaves for France, not to do something worthy, but to do something different with his dull, declining life. As he passes through Paris, the sights of the dead and wounded from the war is a wake up call that things might be a little different than the gallant newsreels back home in Texas depicted.
Along with the other American volunteers, Blaine arrives in Luxeuil, later moved closer to the front at Bar-le-Duc, unable to speak the language and faced with the even greater challenge of learning to operate a device that was only invented 10 years before the war began—the airplane.
Commanding them is the firm, yet fair, French Capitaine Thenault (Jean Reno, whom you may remember from “The Pink Panther” and “The Da Vinci Code” and, I might add, is the only character who sports the name of an actual Lafayette Escadrille Captain). After listening to these fresh young American boys make light “fun” of their situation, Captain Thenault lets them know that their mission for France and in this platoon is serious. He addresses them in English, “Along with the English, French and others, you Americans are the first and only to join. You have joined the fight to preserve freedom. The life expectancy is anywhere between three to six weeks.”
They quickly realize the vital and grave extent of their situation. At this point, France has been in the war for three years and has lost millions of men in battle. They have been fighting against a much superior German military. It is time for the tables to turn.
Reed Cassidy (from “Bride and Prejudice,” Martin Henderson) is their training “Ace” who is professional, confident and emotionally distant. Cassidy commands respect, while living with these boys in their barracks set up in a donated French chateau. He commands respect while in the air and through the platoon mascot—a lion, whom he commands just as much respect from, named “Whisky”—Cassidy keeps his authority unquestioned.
Blaine and the othzer young Americans, nicknamed “flyboys,” are put under vigorous training not anticipated when they enlisted. Long hours in the air, and long nights away from home and family begin to wear on William Jensen (Philip Winchester) who dreams of his young fiancé back home in Nebraska, and rich kid Briggs Lowry (“Boston Legal”’s Tyler Labine), who is hesitant to share his quarters with a black Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis) because his brief connection to blacks has been as his servants, only. Add to this already tense scenario that Briggs is convinced Eddie Beagle (David Ellison) is a German spy, even though he is an American from Wisconsin, and the undercurrent of anxiety mounts.
Ultimately, through steady and constant training, they are exposed to each other’s personal lives, fears, strengths as well as weaknesses, eventually becoming as close as brothers and breaking down any and all ethnic and social barriers. Soon, transformed from boys into men, they become a squad willing to sacrifice their very lives for one another and for this war—the Great War for freedom.
When Blaine crashes his plane in the French countryside and falls in love with Lucienne (a sweetly believable Jennifer Decker) who finds him and nurses him back to health, the story complicates. Through his love for Lucienne and her brave little family, Blaine learns firsthand the heart-wrenching costs of war as it has radically affected their lives. Lucienne’s brother and wife were killed by a German bombing while innocently sitting in their home, leaving behind their three young children for Lucienne to raise, she being but a teenager herself.
Dennis Gorden, advisor on this film, has done well in keeping the production’s early 20th century view on track. Attention to detail in the clothing, grounds and even the canvas-covered and balsa wood planes are near perfect. It’s hard to imagine that these are merely replicas of the Indian Head (a sign of bravery) insignia’d bi-planes flown by the original Lafayette Escadrilles themselves.
The story by Blake T. Evans and screenplay from Phil Spears, David S. Ward and Blake T. Evans, even though it tries to tell too much with too many characters for the time allotted for this movie, still stays together and keeps us interested in each and every one. Tony Bill’s work as director is promising, as he transformed himself from TV producer to film director.
“Flyboys” is not an epic saga, nor is it a B-movie. It is a fine representation of comradery, dedication to a basic moral cause, heroics, love and sacrifice. The reference to the seriousness of war is repeated as these young boys learn that one must think carefully before entering into this type of situation, but once there not to back out, instead devote oneself to the cause, to those whose life you are defending, and follow through.
I cannot help but think of one minor, though important character named Lyle Porter played by Michael Jibson. He seems to be the only guy there who came to France knowing what he was getting himself into. He is a Christian with a dedicated Christian motive. He knows he is fighting for freedom and the right for every person on the planet to live peacefully. As he sings “Onward Christian Soldiers,” he fights to the death with a bravery that is not coming from reliance on his own abilities. I took notice that he was getting his fighting power from his faith in God. Porter knew His God, and he knew where he was going when he was shot down in battle.
PG-13 is right on the mark. Although there are very brief references to sex, no one is shown having it. One pilot is shown with his pants down. There is a whore house in the French countryside, and members from the squadron are shown visiting the ladies there, but again no sex scene is ever shown on camera. Real, true love is shown between the characters of Lucienne and Blaine. Their love is shown as pure, and only one kiss is shared between them onscreen, and is shown as sweet and gentle.
There is lots of war violence, bombing, explosions, shooting guns from the planes, blood, burning planes with men still in them, and shooting from the trenches. There are at least two scenes where a person is shown falling out of a plane, and as is with CGI effects, looks very realistic. One fighter is shot in the head, and another character’s hand is cut off, but the act is not shown on camera.
There is drinking, and drinking shown as a sign of male virility, as was (and still is) a part of Army life. I am not condoning it, I am just stating fact. The act of taking a “shot of bourbon” as a sign of how many “kills” a pilot has made, may seem callus to some. Also, each fighter pilot has “stars” or “X”s painted on the side of his plane for how many German fighters he has shot down. This also is a harsh reality and was a real part of war time heroism for fighter pilots then and even on into WWII. One character lifts his glass and shouts, “Drink up, you’re still alive!” He also makes his toast to “virginity.”
Through it all, I didn’t count any profanity or reference to The Lord’s name taken in vain. Instead, faith in God was emphasized. The men said a prayer for “courage” and used phrases like “may God be with you.” There was more than one scene where a priest blessed the men and their planes as they went into or came back from battle. A pilot is shown praying, while yet another makes the sign of the Cross. It is clear these men wanted to do something worthy with their lives. They were taught and believed that “the man, and not the machine is what mattered.” Some mottos adhered to were: Don’t grieve over the things you cannot change, but instead stand for human justice and the honorable things of God. Every man is your brother, no matter what color his skin or his background.
War is not always against God’s will. There are times when it is our responsibility to God’s will which institutes war as a means to a Holy end to prejudice and genocide. Let us be reminded that in the book of Judges God designates Judah as the tribe to begin fulfilling His command to be an instrument of justice against the wicked Canaanites. God blesses Judah’s obedience with victory. As in all wars, theirs is the victory who go with God.
[What is the Christian perspective on war? Answer]
By August 1917, the La Fayette Escadrille had won four Legions of Honor, seven Medailles Militaire and thirty one citations, each citation accompanied by a Croix de Guerre.
I would recommend this MGM movie to families, but caution parents that “Flyboys” has very realistic CGI effects centered around fighting/war scenes. Children under 13, and those who may not be prepared for scenes of war so authentically depicted, may want to wait for a later time, after careful discussions about war and how God’s will fits into the picture. Indeed, the dog fights were thrilling! The CGI effects are well worth the price of a ticket!
“Flyboys” could even turn into a history lesson, sparking your teen’s (or tween’s) interest into further research about WWI, the notion of “dog fights,” and other facts of this era, including the fighting Escadrilles, such as:
There really were large felines within the squadron barracks: Two lion cubs, named “Whiskey” and “Soda,” were made squadron mascots.
On February 8, 1918 the squadron was reorganized into the US Army (as hinted at in the finale of “Flyboys”). Most of the veteran members were set to work training newly arriving American pilots.
It can also be noted that the world’s first black military aviator, Eugene Bullard, flew with the Lafayette Flying Corps.
The character in “Flyboys” known as Reed Cassidy bears a definite resemblance to real-life Lafayette Escadrille “Ace” Thomas Gantz Cassady from Freedom, Indiana, who was awarded numerous medals and merits.
There actually is The Lafayette Escadrille Memorial outside of Paris, France.
The monument is composed of a central Arch of Triumph, one-half-size of the Arch of Triumph in Paris. Upon the stone are inscribed the names of the dead American pilots of the Escadrille La Fayette and the Lafayette Flying Corps during the first World War 1914-1918. Also, inscribed thereon are the French towns and provinces where these pilots were involved in aerial fights with the German forces. The inscriptions are in French on one side and in English on the other side of the monument. Under the monument is a sanctuary crypt including 68 sarcophagi.
The famed Lafayette Escadrille (Squadron), remain the only all-American squadron of volunteers flying under the French flag in World War I. The squadron included thirty-eight members at final tally. In all, 269 American aviators served France as volunteers in what came to be designated officially by the French government as the Lafayette Flying Corps, including the Lafayette Escadrille.
Kiffin Rockwell (one of the real-life first members of the Corps) wrote in partial explanation of his taking up France’s fight, “I pay my debt for Lafayette and Rochambeau.” If we in America should stand in mortal peril; and bereft of aid, would we not take heart if some young Frenchman were to arrive in our camp proclaiming, “I pay my part for Pershing and Eisenhower.”?
Kiffin Rockwell was slain during a valiant fight with an enemy plane, on September 23rd, 1916.
French-American relations have been strained for more than a year [since the War on Terrorism began], given that the government in Paris flatly opposed the U.S. incursion into Iraq. [“FLYBOYS”] provides a broader historical perspective on relations that go back more than two centuries.
Ref: ww1aviation.com—AmericanDeplomecy.org—Lafayette Flying Corps Memorial Foundation
Violence: Heavy / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: Mild
[Editor’s note: Read—What is the Christian perspective on war? Answer]