Paramount // 1991 // 116 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // September 16th, 2003
The only thing they can count on is each other.
Navy flyboy Jake Grafton pilots an A-6 Intruder, a low altitude bomber that carries no defensive weapons. These tree skimming aircraft run reconnaissance missions deep into enemy territory, locating and taking out supposed threats. But over time, a great many men have died destroying what seem to be pointless targets. After seeing two of his best friends killed senselessly in separate raids, Jake has had enough. He gets a potentially treasonous idea in his head. He will abandon his orders on a late night run and destroy the enemy Headquarters in Hanoi. Hoping he is like-minded, Jake shares this information with new partner Cole, a flyer with a bad reputation on his third tour of duty. They decide to attack a Surface to Air (SAM) missile battery in the very heart of the North Vietnam city instead. The ancillary mission is not without its risks. But these two hotshot service men are sick and tired of the bureaucracy that seems to be keeping America from winning the war outright. So they risk everything -- career, court martial and country -- to try and snatch one last victory out of the jaws of most certain defeat, to let heroism and hope pilot one last Flight of the Intruder.
Flight of the Intruder is one of the most proficient and polarized military movies ever made. The filmmakers' ability to work closely with the United States armed forces machine means that we get one of the most accurate and detailed looks at Navy service and combat flight ever captured on screen. The film tells its story in a cinematic shorthand honed over decades of Tinseltown war films, and offers expertly realized, realistic action sequences. Director John Milius has every muscle in his overheated filmmaking machismo in full effect here. The movie moments have a power and brashness, always getting their directed points across. But when it comes to its characters, Flight of the Intruder begins to show a rather puzzling, waffling weakness. Beyond its supposed "Love It or Leave It" mentality is actually a revisionist view of Vietnam, a declaration of universal discontent stated by the actual people fighting the war itself. Indeed, many times throughout the running time of this film, the officers and pilots break into long critiques about the futile nature of the bombing campaign, the lack of desire to achieve any kind of significant offensive advantage, and the rote pointlessness of the missions. In essence, Flight of the Intruder is the first air battle movie that celebrates these brave flying men even as it systematically criticizes their intentions and directives. When Danny Glover's Commander Camperelli discusses the situation back home with Brad Johnson's Lieutenant Grafton, we can see the idealism of the establishment clashing with the modern revisionism about this divisive conflict to create a truly confusing dichotomy. More times than not, you'll want to stop the film and ask the characters if they really feel compelled to serve their country or not.
These schizoid scenarios mar what is otherwise a good old blood and bluster, all guts or glory bit of throwback entertainment. It's hard not to look at the whorehouse bar brawl or the mid-morning briefings about a "mystery shitter" (apparently, the Navy has a tradition whereby one member of the crew leaves his feces and urine around for others to find. And you thought Tailhook was bad) without feeling the spirit of John Wayne or Audie Murphy hovering around. Indeed, Willem Dafoe (as one of those 'plays by his own rules' 'loose cannons') and Brad Johnson remind the viewer of another, much more cogent Vietnam movie, Oliver Stone's Platoon. There are several scenes where Johnson's resemblance to that film's Tom Berenger provides an eerie reminder of the idealistic antagonism Stone explored. But Milius is less about spiritualism and more about the meat and potatoes of modern warfare and the men who fight in it. He throws in some overly sentimental moments (Tom Sizemore's pre-death "Daddy" moment) and a Grafton love interest (the completely wasted Rosanna Arquette) to pad out the patriotism.
If the movie stumbles in its last twenty minutes, it's because the daylight raid and subsequent dogfight/ rescue material seems anticlimactic. We just witnessed an all-out assault on a city and its arsenal. The scenes were exhilarating and exciting. The tension was even raised up a notch when the potential for court-martial and punishment is presented. When everything is resolved, the movie should be over. But no, Flight of the Intruder just doesn't know when to quit. It has just got to throw in one last defiant bit of derring-do for its main characters, as if we didn't see their bravery a dozen or so times before. Ending aside though, Flight of the Intruder is a solid, sentimental enjoyment, a reminder of when Hollywood filled its war films with larger than life, steely men of action.
So what does Paramount do to celebrate this title? Do they give Milius a chance to revisit the film with a director's cut or inclusion of deleted scenes? Do they allow the actors or other crew members to come together for an interview documentary filled with wonderful reminiscences and anecdotes about working so closely with and along side the U.S. military? Is there an optional audio commentary by experts or authors pointing out the film's many accuracies and occasional flaws? A gallery? A simple trailer? Hell friggin' no! Honestly, the meager men of the once proud movie mountain barely give us a menu screen. Aside from a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image that has some definite age and pixelation issues, and a quasi-Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround soundtrack that thinks channel-challenging bomb blasts mean total home theater immersion, there is nothing else included here as part of this digital package. While a title that is over 12 years old might not warrant a lot of chimes and chimera, especially one that was a box office disappointment, Paramount has to understand that the fan base for such movie material is so limited that, without added content, this DVD's failure is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Aficionados of all things combat will gravitate toward Intruder, but otherwise, the casual film fan will probably skip it for something a little more "fleshed out," merchandise-wise. While not the best air warfare movie ever made, Flight of the Intruder delivers a significant bang for its incredible meager packaging buck.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Year: 1991
MPAA Rating: Rated R