The Last Flight -- Film Review

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PARIS -- Karim Dridi's "The Last Flight" mostly resembles the late Anthony Minghella's "The English Patient." Romance, warfare, a colonial setting and sweeping desert vistas are the main ingredients, but Dridi is no Minghella, and even the starring presence of Oscar winner Marion Cotillard might not be enough to ensure boxoffice success.

By its own ambitious lights, "Flight" is a failure. It might find an audience in France and even overseas if properly marketed. The visuals are splendid, and the specifics of colonial warfare are sketched out convincingly. But spectators hoping for the depth, complexity and lush romanticism of the Minghella movie likely are to emerge feeling short-changed.

Based on a novelized account of the lonely death of pioneer aviator Bill Lancaster, who vanished in 1933 in the Sahara during a flight from England to Cape Town, the movie relates the efforts of his (fictional) mistress Marie (Cotillard) to rescue him and her encounter with Antoine (Guillaume Canet), a young French army officer.

Marie attaches herself to a punitive expedition sent against Tuareg rebels. When Antoine, who already has started to go native, deserts to help her track down the missing airman, they set off on an odyssey through the sand dunes.

Bravely -- or perhaps rashly -- Dridi chooses to understate the romance, preferring a slow buildup of signs and gestures designed to express the growing bond between the taciturn soldier and the young woman on a mission. A succession of unconnected incidents -- a camel is injured and has to be shot, the couple have a heated discussion about the nature of love -- provides the barest of narratives.

Unfortunately, neither the dialogue nor the actors' performances convey the passions the director sees developing in his characters. The love affair, made explicit in a single, life-giving kiss, is not rendered credible. It is unclear why Marie should be chasing after a man, Lancaster, who has told her that he has a wife and three children and does not intend to leave them.

Cotillard and Canet, a couple in real life, fail to generate anything resembling onscreen chemistry. The movie ends with Marie and Antoine still trudging through the scorching sands while we are told the quest's outcome in a few lines of text.

Opened: Wednesday, Dec. 16 (France, Switzerland)
Production: Gaumont, Les Films du Dauphin, France 3 Cinema
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Guillaume Canet, Guillaume Marquet, Saidou Abatcha, Frederic Epaud, Michael Vander Meiren
Director: Karim Dridi
Producers: Jean Cottin, Sidonie Dumas
Screenwriters: Karim Dridi, Pascal Arnold
Based on the novel by: Sylvain Estibal
Director of photography: Antoine Monod
Production design: Johann George
Music: Joubran Trio, Chkrrr
Editor: Lise Beaulieu
No rating, 94 minutes