Right, so. During WWI, before the Americans joined in, American volunteer pilots sometimes served with the French air force. They were organised into the Escadrille de Lafayette, which is similar to be not exactly the same as the Lafayette Flying Corps. This film is about those pilots, although it plays pretty loosey-goosey with the history.
Honestly, you can make a long list of the inaccuracies in this film, and many have. The airplane models they show weren’t all flying at the same time, for instance, which is the kind of thing people who go to see WWI films notice but not something I would have spotted myself. It simplifies and condenses and exaggerates and so on, but honestly even that’s not the real problem with it.
It’s just … honestly, this thing could just have been called War Movie.
I mean, there’s a rag-tag bunch of pilots: a rich jerk, an idealistic one, a black guy, a grizzled veteran, etc., etc., etc., and each has a one-sentence plotline. There’s a rootless young hero (James Franco) and a gruff French officer (Jean Reno, because who else), and there’s a noble German who gets killed anyway and a vicious German who kills the secondary good guy but gets his comeuppance in the end. And there’s a pretty girl raising some adorable moppets and they have a sweet love story even though, how whimsical, she doesn’t really speak English and he doesn’t really speak French, and, like, basically …
… if I asked you to sit down and write a movie in which James Franco plays an American airman in France in WWI and I didn’t tell you anything else about the plot, you would write this movie, more or less.
So how much you like this movie depends on how much you like dogfighting sequences and scenes of camp life. From that perspective, it’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. Everybody in it does a fine job. It has fight scenes and landscapes and clearly they spent some money on the sets and things, but just …
… just who cares, really? If you know enough about American service in France during WWI to fit on the back of an envelope, you won’t really learn anything new, and you won’t really be surprised (other than by the resolution of the love story, which I have to admit threw me). So if you like seeing planes fly around and blow up and you’ve already watched Red Tails, which has really good dogfights to go with its absolutely average script, you could watch this, I guess.
OK, I’m being unfair. Here’s a good thing: this is a WWI movie that makes it clear that this is a French conflict and the Americans are a sideshow, and doesn’t try to make the French look bad in any way. So that’s nice.