Like most modern inventions, the airplane had hardly left the ground before someone came up with an idea of how to use it as an instrument of war. In Flyboys, we learn about some Americans that joined the legendary French Lafayette Escadrille and risked their lives serving as some of the first military pilots.
The script follows a handful of these US born soldiers, including Briggs Lowry (James Franco), whose father foists him into the service; African-American boxer Eugene Skinner (Abdul Salis), an expatriate enjoying the racial tolerance extended to him in France; Blaine Rawlings (James Franco), a man with little to lose after the bank forecloses on his family's ranch; and Lyle Porter (Michael Jibson), a devout Christian who flies by faith.
For the most part, these young men were just looking for adventure in the sky. With the Allied powers of France, England and Italy losing ground to the aggressive Germans, the naive volunteers are readily welcomed by the French. Taken under the wing of Captain Thenault (Jean Reno) and veteran US flyer Reed Cassidy (Martin Henderson), the flyboys are trained in aircraft operation, fighting techniques, and how to quickly take their own life in the event of an impending crash.
Anyone who is a war movie buff will likely find something to enjoy here. Touted as the first movie in forty years to focus on the aerial battles of World War I, seeing these vintage aircraft in action is truly exciting -- even if some scenes are obvious electronic recreations. Unfortunately, all the dogfights and exciting combat sequences don't leave much remaining runtime in which to get to know and care about the large cast of characters.
The resulting violence will also be a concern for parents. Besides planes being shot down, the loss of human life is depicted in detailed crashes, falls from heights and pistol shots (one is self-inflicted). These portrayals and the many perilous situations depicted will undoubtedly be too intense for preteen audiences.
As well, these brave boys tip back more than a few glasses of booze after a day in the air, and manage to convince the teetotaler Christian to do the same. Visits to a local brothel are another recreational pastime -- although no untoward activity is seen.
Yet what keeps this film from crashing on our family viewing scale is its strong messages of loyalty, tolerance, and fighting for a valiant cause. An additional bonus is the historical value of remembering how these pioneering Flyboys helped to maintain freedom -- often at the cost of their own lives.