You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Above and Beyond’

This heroic account of the founding of the Israeli Air Force recasts Israel's survival as a victory for American chutzpah.

Lou Lenart, Coleman Goldstein, Leon Frankel, Gideon Lichtman, Paul Reubens, Benny Morris, Craig Weiss; Dani Shapira.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2704752/

A gung-ho celebration of the overnight creation of the Israeli Air Force by a handful of American G.I.’s, “Above and Beyond” boasts a helluva story, a cast of still-feisty nonagenarian flyboys, and state-of-the-art combat “reconstructions” by Industrial Light and Magic (working gratis). Director Roberta Grossman and producer Nancy Spielberg’s documentary soars when buoyed by the subjective recollections of its expertly interviewed pilots. When venturing into historical “objectivity,” however, the film veers toward oversimplified selectivity, too intent on its feel-good, back-patting agenda. Nevertheless, recasting Israel’s survival as a victory for American chutzpah may widen the film’s appeal beyond target auds.

The daredevil pilots’ tale of how they jerrybuilt a fledgling fighting force for Israel is the stuff of high adventure; wild improbabilities and slapdash solutions abound as they overcome all manner of official obstacles. Americans were forbidden to join in the Israeli struggle and faced loss of citizenship and imprisonment. Planes and the armaments they carried had to be bought clandestinely and smuggled out of the country in the raggedy guise of a fictional Panamanian airline. Pilots were recruited by covertly contacting WWII airmen with Jewish-sounding names in secret rendezvous (“Meet a guy with a flower in his lapel on 57th Street”).

Once airborne, the planes had to hopscotch halfway around the world, from Panama to Brazil, Morocco, Rome and finally Czechoslovakia for training. There, in a wildly ironic twist, American pilots wound up outfitted in Nazi uniforms flying cobbled-together Messerschmitts.  But to hear the old boys tell it, this global jaunt consisted of one long series of wild parties as they cruised in search of wine, women and trouble. Amazingly, in relating their unheralded exploits, these elderly buzzboys regain their devil-may-care panache, adding greatly to the  pic’s storytelling brio, while Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic (anything but seat-of-the-pants) fills simulated faded Technicolor skies with flying B-16 bombers, RAF Spitfires and a whole mess of Messerschmitts.

Grossman’s tunnel vision plunges viewers into the reconstructed events of a single year, 1948, enlivened by the men who participated in these momentous, map-altering missions. But when the focus widens to include an overview beyond the airmen’s experience, it becomes clear that history — and newsreels — are written by the winners. By including an extended, fairly one-sided account of the founding of Israel, complete with an interview with Shimon Peres, and placing it within the heroic yarn-spinning of American WWII vets, the filmmakers conjure the illusion of a national destiny linked to the United States, unchanged in its trajectory to the present.

Technically, “Above and Beyond” is slickly put together by cutter Chris Callister, the pilots seamlessly introduced and reintroduced at key junctures; the archival photographs and historical footage are skillfully matched to fake contemporaneous aerial dogfights and plane’s-eye-views of advancing Egyptian, Iraqi and Jordanian forces.

Spielberg has said that she plans to make a narrative feature out of this material, and maybe partial fictionalization would allow for subtler, more nuanced insertion of a historical overview, possibly conveyed via background radio broadcasts or mulled over by characters in plot-given contexts. But as it stands, “Above and Beyond” reps an uneasy combo of two very different kinds of documentary, one of them personalizing the past and the other “objectifying” political advocacy.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Above and Beyond'

Reviewed at the New York Jewish Film Festival, January 22, 2015 (also at Doc NYC).  Running time: 86 MIN.

Production: An Intl. Film Circuit release of a Playmount production in association with Katahdin Prods.  Produced by Nancy Spielberg.  Executive producers S. Daniel Abraham, A Berg.

Crew: Directed by Roberta Grossman. Written by Sophie Sartain. Camera (color, HD, archival black-and-white), Harris Done; editor, Chris Callister; music, Lorne Balfe; production designer, Frank Gampel; sound supervisors, Larry Benjamin, Mark Friedgen; re-recording mixer, Benjamin; visual effects supervisor, Richard Bluff; visual effects producer, Amber Wong.

With: Lou Lenart, Coleman Goldstein, Leon Frankel, Gideon Lichtman, Paul Reubens, Benny Morris, Craig Weiss; Dani Shapira.

More Film

  • Noahs Ark

    India’s Symbiosys to Co-Produce, Co-Animate Gullane’s ‘Noah’s Ark’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Noah’s Ark – A Musical Adventure,” Brazil’s most ambitious animated feature ever, just got a bit bigger with the announcement that producers Fabiano Gullane’s Gullane, Walter Salles’ Videofilmes and Felipe Sabino and Daniel Greco’s NIP will be joined by leading Indian animation studio Symbiosys Technologies as co-producers and co-animators. The partnership marks the first occasion [...]

  • Navarra

    Navarre Film Commission Celebrates First Decade at San Sebastian

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —    Since the 1950s, Spain has been a favorite European shooting locale. One of the biggest reasons remains its easily accessible, unique and diverse locations. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this past June, the Navarre Film Commission kicked off a traveling exhibition which has been touring Spain over the summer and will present [...]

  • Rambo Last Blood

    Film Review: 'Rambo: Last Blood'

    Home has always been an abstract concept for John Rambo, which is what the last scene of 2008’s otherwise expendable “Rambo” sequel finally gave the iconic Sylvester Stallone character: a moment when this unsettled Vietnam War survivor, looking very much the worse for wear, lumbers up to a mailbox bearing the character’s surname. At last, [...]

  • Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith. Jada

    Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith's Westbrook Inks Development Pact With Telepool (EXCLUSIVE)

    Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith’s new media venture, Westbrook Inc., has signed a co-development agreement for feature films, television shows and digital entertainment formats with German-based film and TV company Telepool. The move follows the acquisition of Telepool last year by Smith and Elysian Fields, a Zurich-based investment company. Westbrook, launched this year by [...]

  • There's Something in the Water

    Toronto Film Review: 'There’s Something in the Water'

    Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the unpleasant sights, smells and pollutants of industry have typically been located where the poor folk dwell, and police society needn’t notice. With the dawn of popular environmental consciousness about a half-century ago, it became clear that toxic byproducts with a dismayingly long shelf life and unknown (or, [...]

  • 'David Foster: Off the Record' Review:

    Toronto Film Review: 'David Foster: Off the Record'

    By the early 1970s, as the counterculture was dissolving and reconfiguring, there were new pop-star archetypes on the horizon that we still tend to think of — the glam rocker, the sensitive singer-songwriter, the hair-band metal strutter, the prog-rock wizard, the belting pop chanteuse, the punk rocker. But there was another figure of the era [...]

  • Bob IgerSimon Weisenthal Gala honoring Bob

    Bob Iger Would Have Combined Disney With Apple if Steve Jobs Were Still Alive

    Disney and Apple are both launching their own streaming services come November, but Disney CEO Bob Iger says the two companies weren’t always on competing paths. In an excerpt from his autobiography published Wednesday in “Vanity Fair,” Iger revealed that Disney and Apple likely would have merged if Steve Jobs hadn’t died in 2011. “I [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content