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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
**Spoiler Warning** The events of this movie are essentially accurate but there is a certain anti-everything flavor that is a bit obnoxious. The F-16 was the first fighter plane in US inventory with a 100% fly by wire control system (no mechanical or hydraulic linkage to the stick or rudders.) It also had a head up display (HUD) which served as the primary Attitude indicator (tells the pilot which way is up.) Early F-16A models were all 'steamguages' except for a stores management display that looked like a glorified calculator, the HUD, and the radar display which was essentially a 5 inch TV screen between the pilot's legs. In the movie (and in the real mishap,) Wire chaffing had caused a short in one of the wire bundles which resulted in a false indication of which way was up on the HUD. The pilot, trusting his HUD, flew into the ground. Within the Air Force there is an adage,"When a plane is destroyed and the pilot lives, it's the maintenance crew's fault. If the pilot is killed, it's the pilot's fault." The idea is to save the pilot's career if possible or to save the ground crew's conscience if necessary. This particular Air Force widow was a little less than understanding when it came to Air Force 'tradition.' Previous to the incident, a training video had been produced by General Dynamics (maker of the F-16) warning ground crews to check for wire chaffing during inspections. This was a preventative measure which was later supplemented by rerouting certain wire bundles that were found to be prone to chaffing. This was used by the widow and her lawyer to 'prove' that General Dynamics was aware of a fatal flaw in their jet. They were forced to pony up some serious cash and the Air Force eventually cleared the pilot's name. Before and since, all Air Force personnel doing any maintenance on the F-16 have to undergo recurring 'wire chaffing' training. Even though I was an F-15 maintainer, I had to sit through the briefing twice just because I was on a base that had F-16s. Go figure, a defense contractor does the right thing and makes a video to show maintainers what to look for during inspections and they get sued for it. The settlement was one of those lucrative multi-million dollar jobs, plus royalties from the movie. And as I recall, a documentary came out a short while after the movie. The real widow was interviewed and yes, she struck me as being a bit obnoxious and somewhat ignorant of how dangerous and unforgiving her husband's job had been.
Based on a true story, this is a much better-than-average TV movie. Plus points are excellent, sympathetic performances from Laura Dern and Vincent Spano, good photography, and good music. The usual TV-movie faults of excessive sentimentality and a pat ending are there, but the strengths outweigh them. Worth watching. Rating: 7/10.
Laura Dern is full of surprises. After seeing Dr. T. and the Women I wasn't sure what I wanted to look at, except she was so fascinating in Damaged Care. So here is another great movie, this time not a runaway, schoolteacher, drug addict, Med. doctor, scientist, bad wife, detective, but an Air Force wife. The way she can adapt to so many personalities in such a short space of time, (1992- 2002)is amazing. This was well laid out and a superbly directed true story based on a wife's love. As the dead pilot's wife, she was convinced that he was one of the best and was out to prove the death was not his fault, but a malfunction of a new plane which killed many pilots and was being covered up by the US Government, the USAF, and General Dynamics. For years she fought and searched, and eventually found the proof and sued the system and won. There was even a hint that an AF doctor, a Lt Col., had a "fatal accident" just before he was to testify on the pilot's behalf. It was brought out the real Janet H. had a small part in the movie and I'm still trying to figure out which one she was. The BAD thing here is that this movie was made for HBO and available to probably less than 1% of the viewing population. I've never seen HBO in my life so I rented it. This movie should have been on the Big Screen, and I think it would have been on a blockbuster level like "Sergeant York". It was well done and easy to follow, something I can't say for many movies today. Thanks.
Based on a true story, "Afterburn" is about Janet Harduvel (Laura
Dern), whose husband, Captain Theodore Harduvel, flew F-16s. When he is
killed, supposedly due to pilot error, Harduvel sets out to clear his
name, as her husband was one of the best pilots ever. She wants to
prove that there was a malfunction of the new plane that was being
covered up by the government, the Air Force, and the manufacturer,
General Dynamics - and that it had been the cause of death for other
She seeks out an attorney (Robert Loggia) who agrees to take her case.
This isn't a typical made-for-TV movie, as it was produced by HBO, and is therefore a cut above. Laura Dern does an excellent job as the widow. Worth seeing.
This is definitely a pretty riveting film, so strong that in fact it's surprising that it was only a TV movie. I say that because the screenplay is great, the directing very assured, and the performances outstanding. Laura Dern has done great TV and film work, and this actually stands as one of the best performances I've seen from her. She grounds this character completely while also delivering some truly dramatic material that her character goes through. It all feels very lived-in and it's particularly impressive when one compares her work here to what she had to do in films like Wild at Heart, and then Rambling Rose where she needs to find a middle ground between both types of extreme acting in her range. So great, she deserves more work, truly recommended film.
There were a spate of movies that came out over the course of a decade or so
in which ordinary women, rather than saints, saw injustice in the system and
fought against it. In "Marie," Sissy Spacek was the woman next door who
just happened to stumble over state corruption and righted it despite
resistance. That was in, I think, 1984. A few years later, Jodie Foster
turned in a first-rate performance as a victimized woman who fights the
legal bureaucracy in "The Accused." The innovate feature of "Accused" was
that Foster played a young woman who was not only less than saintly but
positively low-class. The film won Foster an Academy Award and it must have
light a few light bulbs among the MBAs who greenlight projects, because in
2000, Julia Roberts won accolades for a similar part.
This one, starring Laura Dern, and featuring Loggia, Spano, and perennial heavy Rooker, among others, came in between -- 1992. And it really is derivative. Vincent Spano is a sexy pilot and Dern is a sexy waitress in a saloon. She brash and vulgar. She talks back to authority figures and smartasses smug housewives. She smokes. She wears her golden hair up in a great big pile on top of her head. She wears cheap-looking clothes, and she's easy. We can all recognize her as exactly the type of girl a Captain in the United States Air Force, an officer and a gentleman by act of Congress, would propose marriage to.
But, not to worry. The producers and writers must have realized that if they wanted to hook the female audience, this coarseness could only be taken so far. Therefore, as the movie progresses, so does Dern. She remains an outspoken woman, of course, but her demeanor and grooming change, gradually, until by the end she is perfectly fashionable by any middle-class definition.
It's not Dern's fault. She gives the role everything she's got and is quite good, throwing her ectomorphic body with those endlessly long legs around so carelessly. Her face is an interesting object as well, long and thin, with appealing blonde hair and darker brows and lashes. Spano is handsome too, I suppose, although we see a bit more of him than we need to perhaps. Robert Loggia is his dependable self. Rooker plays a mixed-up family friend who's heart is in the right place.
General Dynamics is the villain here. Spano's F-16 nosedives into the ground. The Air Force deems it pilot error, but Dern, the faithful wife, knows there is what she calls "a cover up." And so there is. General Dynamics is taken to court. No power on earth could force me to reveal who wins the case.
The plot is conventionally structured. The music stays in the background. The location shooting, in Southern California, isn't bad. It's derivative, yes, but so were several films that followed "Accused." That floozy business is the most interesting part of the pattern, though, and this made-for-TV movie gets rid of it pretty quickly.
Hollywood has never quenched its thirst with enough anti-U.S.
government stories. It just goes on and on. Better yet is to have a
woman fight the government, since that gets more politic ally-correct
points. Here, we have a mouthy woman who demands to know what was
behind her husband's death as a test pilot. He also was Captain in the
United States Air Force. Hey, nothing wrong with that because - as we
recently discovered with the Pat Tillman case - the government does
lie. However, in Hollywood the government ALWAYS lies and that theme
can get tiresome.
Actually, in this story we go past the government and find out it is a big corporation that was at fault for producing the pilot's plane to crash. So big business - another frequent target of the film industry even though it qualifies for that status itself - is the real villain.
The main character ultra-profane, chain-smoking "Jane Harduvel," and in portrayed in here by Laura Dern, who has played a number of low-life roles in her career. At least her character in this one mellowed somewhat as the story unraveled, but she was so profane and obnoxious for so long that it turned me off to the film. Having a nice-yet determined woman fight for her husband would have made the story more attractive to more people.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Janet, a cocktail waitress at an officer's club, meets and falls in
love with Ted Harduvel, one of the ace pilots assigned to the base.
Their romance leads to marriage, but Janet was not a typical Air Force
bride. Her disappointment is evident because she does not interplay
with the other wives, in fact, she resents them. She is also not too
happy when Ted has to go on missions overseas, something that leave her
alone with her young daughter Kiki at home a bit bored.
When Ted enters the F-16 pilot program, he is assured by his instructors the aircraft is the latest in modern technology. Ted felt he would have to trust the instrument readings in order to do a good job. Unfortunately, on his way to Korea, his plane malfunctions and he crashes against a mountain. The Air Force is quick to blame Ted for a number of things, including drugs, and finally, the ultimate disgrace to any member of that unit, he is guilty of pilot error.
Janet gets angry. She begins trying to dig into the causes of her husband's accident, but she is fighting what appears is a lost cause. Not only will she be going against the US Air Force, but she will face the impossible trying to fight General Dynamics, the manufacturer of the troubled plane. Her plight brings her to a lawyer that comes to admire her instantly, Leo Morrone. He takes her case and they prevail ultimately as the jury finds the maker of the F-16, granting her three millions in damages, only to be overturned when the company appealed the award.
"Afterburn" is one of those made for television pictures that chronicles a real event. Director Robert Markowitz does a good job in staging the Elizabeth Chandler screenplay. How accurate the events are in the film, compared with real life, we as the audience will never know, but it offers an interesting account of the story. The television industry loves to deal with incidents such as the one in the film that shows individuals trying to battle government agencies.
Laura Dern is an intense actress that does justice to Janet Harduvel. She is a likable performer that has given us many interesting characters for our enjoyment. Vincent Spano is the dashing Ted. Robert Loggia appears as Leo Morrone. Michael Rooker plays Ted's best friend, Z. Also in the cast, Richard Jenkins, a wonderful actor with little to do.
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