Flight of the Phoenix

(John Moore, USA, 2004)


This film is a respectful remake of Robert Aldrich’s 1965 action-adventure piece about a group of men trying to repair their crashed aircraft in the Gobi desert.

The sands look pretty, but if anyone ventures out from the makeshift encampment, they are likely to end up dead within a day. Since a rescue mission seems unlikely to materialise, there is only one solution: to rebuild a smaller, leaner aircraft from pieces of the wreckage.

A tough woman (Miranda Otto as Kelly) is here added to the crew led by charismatic Frank (Dennis Quaid, playing James Stewart’s part in the original). Giovanni Ribisi takes the colourful role of a mysterious, rather Aryan-looking tag-along.

The material is full of politically meaningful possibilities – an unseen enemy of desert smugglers, tensions internal to the central group of multicultural Americans, clashes between old-fashioned individualist and new-fangled corporatist methods – which director John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines, 2001) and his writers (Scott Frank and Edward Burns), for the most part, deftly avoid.

Moore is skilled at turning every ostentatious camera movement, as it swoops over a sand dune, into a drama of mild shock or revelation. And he works hard to emphasise the feel-good potential of the communal construction effort. The ensemble (including a well-cast Hugh Laurie as a cold, company middle-man) clicks together well.

It’s a life-and-death situation, but nonetheless this crew find the time for a spirited boogie to techno music – and they also manage, miraculously, to repress all sexual tension that would focus on the sole woman present. A peck on the cheek from Kelly to Frank is as hot as this film gets.

Flight of the Phoenix is modest and quickly forgettable but, on its own terms, well-crafted and enjoyable.

© Adrian Martin July 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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