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BMZ Review: Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag
By Ann Coates


Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag
Written by: Ann Coates
Source: Big Movie Zone
Date: December 20, 2004


Category: Reviews

Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag, a film released in the midst of the U.S. war effort against Iraq, may initially be suspected as a promotion of the current conflict overseas, thus dividing its audience into those who support the war from those who do not.  That, however, would be an incorrect assumption.  Fighter Pilot focuses not on the war (in fact it never directly comments on it), but on the admirable aviators and soldiers within the Air Force, and their participation in the military training program known as Red Flag.

Directed by Large Format vet Stephen Low, Fighter Pilot follows Captain John Stratton, a young and ambitious pilot, as he experiences the two-week-long training called "Red Flag."  The program itself is a series of exercises that challenge and ready its participants before they are sent into actual combat.  Naturally, aerial combat comprises the meat of the film, and our initiation into Red Flag is through the classic dogfight.  This first combat sequence, although for the most part confusing, nevertheless provides an unnerving glimpse into the ordered chaos of air skirmishes.  As the film progresses, the subsequent exercises are more fleshed out, easier to follow and thus more compelling.

Ironically, one of the most thrilling scenes occurs on the ground.  A breathtaking sequence where fighter jets deploy a series of bombs on ground units, this particular exercise displays the terrible and frightening power of our military weaponry.  The mention of "live bombs" sends a chill, and for good reason.  Explosions, so lately blasé when captured on film, are again made remarkable in Fighter Pilot through the effective use of the immersive quality of large format cinema.  Destructive, encompassing and very loud, the film documents the grim reality of a bombing attack.

The film also does a fine job of depicting the women enlisted in the Air Force, an important facet so often overlooked in films concerning the armed forces.  Their active contributions are not merely hinted at once or twice in Fighter Pilot but appear throughout Red Flag in their training as pilots, ground crew and maintenance.  This aspect is characteristic of the entire film in its meticulous attention to teamwork and not individual glory.

What is surprisingly integrated in the film is a convincing storyline, a quite uncommon quality in the Large Format genre.  The story works mostly due to the inherent drama contained in such a challenging training program as Red Flag.  From the search & rescue operation to the destruction of enemy ground forces, the film successfully documents the tension and suspense of these exercises.  Still, Fighter Pilot is prone to bouts of sappiness found mostly in Stratton's narration about his grandfather which bookend the film.

Though obviously promoting the US and allied air forces, the film nevertheless offers a rare inside view of the military, especially of the hard work and persistence of those enlisted.  Straightforward in its telling, Fighter Pilot pays tribute to the armed forces while providing a stunning array of aerial visuals in the process.

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Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag

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