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cast: James Franco, Martin Henderson, David Ellison, Michael Jibson, and Jean Reno

director: Tony Bill

133 minutes (12) 2006
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
MGM DVD Region 2 retail
[released 8 October]

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Alasdair Stuart
The true story of the Lafayette Escadrille is positively cinematic anyway. Before America officially joined the war, a group of young men, for various reasons, all volunteered to fly and fight with the French Air Force. The baptism of fire that they underwent would change those that survived forever.

The film follows a fictionalised version of the group including bankrupt ranch owner Rawlings (James Franco), Porter, a boxer who wants to be more than that (Michael Jibson), Lowry, a debutant wanting to prove himself (Tyler Labine) and Cassidy (Martin Henderson), a seemingly unhinged veteran as horrified by the new pilots' enthusiasm as by the war. As they train and struggle and many die, those that are left find themselves forging a fierce bond with one another and in the case of Rawlings with local farm owner Lucienne (Jennifer Decker).

There's a great deal of charisma sensibly frontloaded into this cast and it pays dividends. Franco now, is much like Gerard Butler three years ago, a leading man in waiting for when the right script comes along. This isn't it, but it's close and as Rawlings he's an effortlessly charismatic, likable leading man. Likewise, Jibson does great work as the only African American in the squadron. Ellison has fun as their loose cannon and, Labine, unrecognisable without his trademark facial hair is excellent as the baby of the group. However, Henderson comes within a gnat's whisker of stealing the show, a snarling, bitter, tactical genius with a pet big cat and a jet-black worldview. He's Perry Cox in a flight helmet, John Munch with a plane, and the end result is tremendous fun.

Films like this however, live and die based on their special effects and the ones on display are top notch. The dogfights are brutal, personal and chaotic and the savagery on display is surprising for a film with this certification. The zeppelin attack is particularly impressive, as is a jaw-dropping sequence that begins in the sky and closes in the middle of the ground war.

Flyboys isn't big, isn't clever and isn't trying to be. It's a simple film with a simple aim; to entertain its viewers and it succeeds admirably.

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