Director: Tony Bill

In a cinematically stunning historical epic based on actual events, director Tony Bill turns back the clock to WWI, introducing us to the brave Americans who volunteered to become flyboys for the French Lafayette Escadrille before the U.S. officially joined the war. James Franco plays Blaine Rawlings, a down on his luck Texas cowboy who (after the death of his parents), must look for a new way of life when the bank forecloses on the family ranch. Once overseas, he quickly becomes the underdog hero of the film as we meet the other flyboys. The incomparable Jean Reno shines as the fierce but loyal captain who trains them for the skies despite the daunting statistic that the life expectancy for the new pilots is only two to three weeks on average. However, don’t let the fate of a majority of the fliers dissuade you—Bill uses tact in his depiction of war violence and employs clever cutaways (which almost seem to affect us more) instead of overly gory in-your-face war carnage, earning the film a modest PG-13 rating. Film buffs will instantly realize a major influence on the dialogue and camaraderie between the flyboys that seems to pay homage to the characters in Howard Hawks’s legendary Cary Grant vehicle Only Angels Have Wings. While initially in Flyboys it’s hard to keep a few of the characters straight as a few are similar in appearance and not enough time is spent developing their roles, by the end of the film we feel highly connected to the remaining fliers, most notably Franco’s Rawlings who’s given a touching love story element as well. Virtually overlooked in theaters (perhaps in expectation of Eastwood’s Iwo Jima films), this gorgeously photographed sleeper will hopefully attract a new fan base now on DVD and it’s well worth seeing for those interested in history since it concerns a period of our time that isn’t usually seen on film.