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A love story colored by the paranoid political climate of the War on Terror, this micro-budget British thriller was shot by first-time feature director Katarzyna Klimkiewicz for around $500,000. Helen McCrory, of Skyfall and Harry Potter fame, leads a mostly unknown cast in a noir-ish suspense yarn with potential appeal to Homeland fans. Opening in British theaters this week, this BBC-backed co-production has a small-screen feel. In overseas markets, TV seems the most likely launch platform, though a beefed-up Hollywood remake is not out of the question.
McCrory plays Frankie, a forty-something college lecturer and high-flying aeronautics expert based in the southwestern English city of Bristol. In the middle of designing the next generation of military drone aircraft, she meets handsome young French-Algerian student Kahil (Najib Oudghiri). Though he is half her age, there is clear sexual chemistry between them. Crossing barriers of age, class, race and culture, their initially hesitant attraction soon blossoms into a highly charged affair, with a frisson of S&M and plenty of spontaneous rough sex in rain-slicked public alleyways.
Klimkiewicz starkly illustrates the cultural and economic gulf between Frankie and Kahil through their very different homes: She lives alone in a palatial apartment in Bristol’s leafy upscale suburbs, while he occupies one cramped room in a shared inner-city house. But their lusty romantic adventure soon curdles into politically charged mistrust as Kahil’s shaky backstory starts to unravel. Following discreet interventions from military intelligence and her anxious father, Frankie grudgingly comes to doubt her young Arab lover’s motives in dating a British woman with access to sensitive military information. Is he an illegal immigrant? A double agent? A terrorist? They can’t go on together, with suspicious minds.
Flying Blind suffers for its skimpy budget onscreen. The dialogue is clunky in places, the supporting players a little amateurish, and the overall feel more televisual than cinematic. The overfamiliar cuture-clash plot feels similarly underpowered, only hinting at the tangled layers of unexamined racism and exotic mutual attraction that bind Frankie and Kahil together. There was scope here for a prickly debate about the morality of drone warfare, state surveillance and attitudes to Islam among Western liberals, but the filmmakers drop these threads in favor of a fairly routine thriller. This story is military-industrial, but not complex.
That said, the action coasts along just fine on old-fashioned suspense, keeping viewers guessing with double bluff and unsettling tonal shifts. Klimkiewicz and her team also make good visual use of Bristol, an underused location in British cinema, particularly the city’s redeveloped harborside and Filton Airport, a Cold War landmark that later became the birthplace of Concorde. While it touches on plenty of interesting questions, Flying Blind never quite musters the dramatic punch that its topical, troubling themes demand.
Production companies: Cinema Six, Ignition Films, Matador Pictures, iFeatures
Producer: Alison Sterling
Director: Katarzyna Klimkiewicz
Stars: Helen McCrory, Najib Oudghiri, Kenneth Cranham, Razane Jammal
Writers: Naomi Wallace, Bruce McLeod, Caroline Harrington
Cinematographer: Andrzej Wojciechowski
Editor: Ewa J. Lind
Music: Jon Wygens
Sales company: Content Film International
Rated 15 (UK), 94 minutes
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