When one sees a movie version of a successful stage play you can always expect the material to be adapted for the new medium. Single set dramas can now go beyond the set’s three walls, if they even have walls. A playwright is no longer limited by what they can actually put on stage nor by what they need to leave up to a viewer’s imagination. They can write it, they can show it. In the case of Charlie Victor Romeo adapting the 1999 play for film would not only be cost prohibitive if done traditional but would actually rob the viewer of the unique experience that the play provides.
Charlie Victor Romeo takes place in the mockup of an airplane cockpit. Actors perform the transcripts taken from the flight voice recorders of flights that ended in disaster. All dialogue is taken from the transcripts verbatim. The film reenacts six flights that met an unexpected end. Each piece is structured the same. It opens with a graphic showing what type of plane, followed by a map that gives an idea of the flight’s course and ending, next the reenactment and finally a graphic that lists the casualties and the cause of the accident.
The film leaves much to the imagination. It is up to the viewer to fill in the blanks for what they are not seeing. The actual plane in flight. The reaction of the passengers. A flight attendant’s fear which can only be heard over an intercom. The film focuses on the human drama that is unfolding in the cockpit. Knowing that these are the actual words spoken by the pilots it brings heightened realism to the proceedings.
The film was shot in 3D and gives the viewer a “you are there” kind of experience. On stage you are likely unable to see up close and can miss the expressions or physical reactions that the actors exhibit while performing the scene. The camera is right up in the cockpit and the 3D gives the feel that you are riding co-pilot with them. The set design has the mockup against a pitch black backdrop that gives the 3D an interesting level of depth.
The transcripts are performed by Patrick Daniels, Irving Gregory, Noel Dinneen, Sam Zuckerman, Debbie Troche and Nora Woolley. The actors change roles as each new scene unfolds. In one an actor may be the captain and in another the flight engineer. The acting is uniformly solid as the move from scene to scene. Considering the amount of dialogue and techno jargon they are required to speak everyone performs rather convincingly.
Charlie Victor Romeo is a unique experience both theatrically and cinematically. It can be fascinating and often times quite intense. It is a solid look at how people can behave under extreme circumstances. If one can see it in 3D that would probably be ideal as that is how the filmmakers intended it. However, if the stage version arrives in town that could very well be just as good an experience.