Review: ‘Charlie Victor Romeo’ is a thought-provoking film about plane crashes
By Matt Prigge,
‘Charlie Victor Romeo’
Directors: Robert Berger, Karlyn Michelson, Patrick Daniels
4 (out of 5) Globes
How does one approach “Charlie Victor Romeo,” the play — and now a tiny 3-D movie — that recreates the final moments of plane disasters from the confines of the cockpit? It’s been used as both straight-up theater, running in various forms since 1999, and as an education tool. (The Pentagon has used it to train pilots.) Both ways sell it a touch short. Like the stage set, it’s a minimalist work, one so stripped-down that it’s open to meaning. You can treat it as a curiosity piece, a thriller or simply use the running time — filled with realistic repetitiveness and the occasional gobbledygook — to let your mind roam. In that respect, it’s not unlike Godfrey Reggio’s new “Visitors,” only more stimulating.
Presented are six diverse real-life cases from the ‘80s and ‘90s. (One odd result of this is it often feels like a long-ago period piece, as when a pilot asks the passengers to “put out your cigarettes.”) Each sequence is separated by a photo carousel of basic facts. We’re eased into the film with a case where the plane crashed but no one died. The second wipes out everyone on board. Suddenly anything is possible.
The cast stick to transcripts and, with a few exceptions — one features a flirty pilot — no characterizations. The actors are recycled; one who perished in one episode pops up in another. At the same time we’re made conscious of the indifference of fate. Death can come at any moment, and an entire life can be reduced to a scare-inducing statistic.
The film is at once deliberately artificial, even Brechtian, not only embracing the theatricality of the stage source but, oddly, making it even stronger with 3-D. The intentionally flat digital photography is compounded with the three dimensions to make the actors look at once eerily real, as though they were right in front of us, and yet fake.
Even then, the tension feels real. One group spends most of their segment panicking at malfunctioning hardware. But even the other, comparatively calmer pieces scream real fright, even though we’re always reminded this is a film of a stage show, on a lit set surrounded by darkness. (We never see that there’s audience off-screen; the film was shot during three live performances, though you’d never know it.)
Again, how do we read this? One issue it brings up is how to present real events in “artistic” ways? Is it smart that we never learn anything about those involved, particularly if they’re dead? Or is that disrespectful to real tragedy? Does removing everything but the raw facts tell us anything we need knowing? And what about picking air travel at all? Statistically planes remain one of the safest ways to travel; when they crash, the event makes international news because they happen so infrequently (and are often so horrific).
“Charlie Victor Romeo” doesn’t answer these questions. It doesn’t have to. Nor does it even specifically raise them. But like the wise person who says little, it knows that by keeping it simple it will give off the impression of richness.