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Burning Blue – Movie Review

7 November, 2016 — by Douglas Clarke-Williams0

Matthew Blackwood (Rob Mayes, left) and Daniel Lynch (Trent Ford, right) in the movie BURNING BLUE, directed by D.M.W. Greer. Photo Credit: LIONSGATE.

Acted and directed with all the subtlety and nuance of an aircraft carrier, D.M.W. Greer’s Burning Blue takes as its subject the forbidden relationship of two homosexual fighter pilots in the early 1990s.

It’s an important and sensitive topic which requires a far defter hand than the made-for-TV-movie stylings of this well-intentioned but ultimately misguided film, which is only now seeing the light of day in the UK two years after its US release.

Some films are so iconic, so emblematic of their time and subject, that they immediately become a shorthand for an entire subset of movie-making. Psycho, Casablanca, Do the Right Thing – landmarks of the medium that are forever destined to be suffixed with ‘-esque’ and thrown into the second paragraph by critics short on time or inspiration or both.

Other films become just as much a form of cultural shorthand, but more through a general tendency to pick out their one headline feature than appreciation of their intrinsic artistic value. Brokeback Mountain, regardless of its sensitive acting or restrained and emotional script, is now the first film to be mentioned whenever there’s two guys doing typically ‘guy’ jobs who also fuck each other. It’s a shame.

Burning Blue would be lucky to be assigned such a place in cinematic history, although coming a decade after Ang Lee’s cowboy love story it has to settle for being conceptually unoriginal as well as a resoundingly underwhelming piece of cinema in its execution.

Although that’s not entirely fair, since the film is based on a Broadway production of the same name written by Greer in the early 90s. But it got fairly middling reviews even then, and most would say was comfortably pipped to the ‘excoriating examination of America’s inability to healthily confront queerness’ post by Kushner’s landmark ‘Angels in America’ that time around as well. Either way it’s not really any excuse for the silver screen version.

burning blue shots scene

The film follows Lieutenants Daniel Lynch (Trent Ford) and William Stephenson (Morgan Spector), best friends and co-pilots in the US Navy whose joint ambition is to qualify for the space program. Only two things stand in their way: Stephenson’s increasingly poor night vision (the sort of thing which I would have expected elite fighter pilots to be tested on semi-regularly anyway, but apparently not) and, following an enlightening night of shore leave in the Big Apple, Lynch’s sexual awakening.

Of the two, Spector is the somewhat more proficient actor, although that may only be because he has little to do but stomp around in a Navy uniform giving occasional manly hugs and making his wife cry. Following Lynch’s night of passion (maybe? The film doesn’t actually show anything beyond some light hair-stroking and a rather chaste kiss, although there is a solid amount of shirtless dancing to the kind of music my dad imagines when I ask him what techno is) with fellow pilot Matthew Blackwood (Rob Mayes). Word soon gets around and the unit is the subject of an NCIS investigation into the possibility of a ‘gay cult’.

What should anchor the whole thing is the proclaimed love between Lynch and Blackwood, but that’s where everything falls down. In Carol, the exemplary version of what is being attempted here, a thousand tiny glances and movements between the two lead characters built their love like a ship made of matchsticks; a stray spark and all was ablaze. Burning Blue by contrast, is a YouTube video of a kid accidentally burning his face off with a can of Lynx and a Bic lighter. Lynch and Blackwood stare at each other across parties with a sort of lumpen intensity that has all the erotic frisson of Christmas cake in January, and a likewise stilted script does little to help.

It really is a shame. This is an important issue and one which, the film reminds us, hasn’t really changed even since Obama’s repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’. But all the good intentions in the world can’t substitute for energy or wit or even a moderately comprehensible plot. “Tears won’t bring him back” one character cries at a funeral; nor the last 96 minutes, unfortunately. 1/5

Burning Blue

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