A one hour and twenty-minute heart attack. That’s the immediate description that came to my mind after the AFI Fest screening of Charlie Victor Romeo. Good heavens is that movie stressful. Luckily for people getting a chance to check the flick out, the movie is far more interesting than one might think on first glance and provides a unique look into fascinating subject matter.
The title Charlie Victor Romeo is derived from the NATO phonetic alphabet, aviation slang for cockpit voice recorder, and the film takes these recordings, 6 to be exact, and fashions them into the aforementioned heart attack. Based on a 1999 stage play, each sequence varies in length, tone, and outcome and is crafted directly from the transcripts of famous crashes and acted out by a cast of seven actors.
A well made thriller, Charlie Victor Romero straddles the line between documentary and narrative filmmaking. One the one hand, the material is (brilliantly) constructed and fashioned into a well plotted and escalating film. On the other hand, the script is based on real transcripts and events, lending the movie an incredible sense of gravitas and realism. It’s hard to praise the script given that it’s based off of transcribed voice recordings, but the construction of the film is hard to ignore because it’s so good. You come to care for this small group of actors playing these different roles, something rare given how the movie is presented but with the script crafted the way it is, it’s not difficult to do.
The film while interestingly composed runs into an interesting problem at around the 3rd reenactment. For so many of these sketches the audience is just waiting for the moment when everything goes to shit and whether people live or die. It’s not the film’s fault, but a few of the sequences do start off incredibly slow, especially given that the previous scene may have ended in a mass loss of life. Whether that’s a function of audience expectations or filmmaking decisions is to be determined, but it definitely makes the middle of the film feel like a bit of a slog. Which is why it’s good the filmmakers seem to realize this, ending with two great sequences that work to upend the audiences feelings about what they’ve been witnessing.
As a 3D enthusiast it pained me that the 3D seemed completely unnecessary to telling the tale. Because you are confined to a single cockpit set, there never felt like a point where it added anything to the experience. Thankfully, the 3D didn’t detract from the movie as it normally sometimes does.
The unsung hero of this film is the phenomenal sound design. Built from the ground up, the differing soundscapes that are present in each of the scenarios is a marvel. I was in awe of how they made each scenario unique and yet linked together. It’s an impressive feat that they pull off with ease.
I can certainly say without fail that Charlie Victor Romeo might be the most interesting film I’ll see all year. From its creative composition to its thrilling subject matter, it’s definitely worth your time when it hits your area.