Above and Beyond (2007)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 04/30/07 21:40:49

"Above, maybe, but not that much beyond."
3 stars (Just Average)

In 1940, with German U-boats blocking American shipments of warplanes to England, the RAF devised a plan to fly the planes across the ocean, from Newfoundland to Ireland. It was a risky move, as at that time transatlantic flights were dangerous ventures with low success rates, especially in winter weather. But it worked, and soon thousands of planes made it overseas. The tide was turned. More importantly: by the end of the war, transatlantic flight had become commonplace, and advances in aviation during these crucial years would change the world forever.

The story of the Atlantic Ferry Command has all the makings for a great movie. What we have in the generically titled “Above and Beyond,” however, is merely a good movie. An overall charm rescues the film from its own losses - namely, dreadful CGI effects (including a laughably phony final shot) and an awkward pace that throws us from daredevil action to quiet character moments without much finesse.

But oh, what charm. The film, originally a two-part miniseries for Canadian television, works best on a personal scale; its cast is neighborly and warm, and they make us care for the gentle minor-melodramas that unfold.

We watch the operation unfold through a mixture of real and imaginary characters. Lord Beaverbrook (Kenneth Welsh) orders Don Bennett (Richard E. Grant) to set up the operation out of an out-of-the-way airfield run by Nathan Burgess (Allan Hawco), who’s consistently perturbed by the increasing military presence. Returning to the sleepy town of Gander is Shelagh Emberly (Liane Balaban), who left the village years ago out of a fear of commitment (to Nathan, of course). Will the couple be reunited? Maybe not, considering the hunky batch of pilots who have volunteered to tackle the transatlantic mission. The most daring of these is Bill Jacobson (Jonathan Scarfe), whose roguish ways have caught Shelagh’s eye.

At three hours, the movie gives itself plenty of time to breathe. Subplots include Lord Beaverbrook’s struggles with a doubtful British government, including Winston Churchill himself (Joss Ackland). Jason Preistley shows up for what is essentially an extended cameo (despite his front-and-center presence on the DVD cover) as Sir Frederick Banting. Long, tense segments detail the troubled test flights. Much time is given to the simple act of training.

It doesn’t always click. The Churchill/Beaverbrook scenes play as heavy historical fiction, while the Gander scenes feel like a leisurely episode of a television drama. The scenes may work well enough on their own, but when combined into one film, the mismatching is often awkward. As such, “Above and Beyond” never quite hits the heights of historical drama it attempts.

But consider those leisurely moments. There is an intense likeability to the cast, especially Hawco and Balaban, whose rapport is delightful. When the script avoids the big picture of wartime politics and aeronautic adventure and centers on the more personal side of things, we get a lovely little tale of endearing people dealing with individual feelings despite the larger events going on around them. These smaller scenes - a soft moment alone, a hint of flirtation - are where “Above and Beyond” shines brightest.

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