Movie Review - Burning Blue

Rob Mayes (left) and Trent Ford
in "Burning Blue"
DMW Greer adapted his own play to the silver screen. It's the story of two aspiring naval pilots who fall in love and become the victims of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Some have called it Top Gun meets Brokeback Mountain, which is accurate, but this movie is less cinematic than either those two. It's not about the film-making here. It's about the performances of the actors. All of whom are top notch.

Greer's writing and directing doesn't help however. Greer bookends the film with the friendship between Dan, played by Trent Ford, and Will, played by Morgan Spector. Yet, the middle of the movie does very little to develop that friendship. We only get glimpses. Thanks to the performances of Ford and Spector, we buy the friendship, but it would have been nice if Greer had bolstered it with more.

After the opening scene, Greer's next scene, which is supposed to establish the young men in the Navy, is rather sloppily handled. It's allegedly a graduation or wedding into which we're thrown, but, aside from all the men being in uniform, it's all generic party celebration that really doesn't establish much of anything.

Greer doesn't really lay down what the goals are for these young Navy men. The guys reference TPS, but there's no exposition or explanation of what TPS is. Will comments once or twice briefly about wanting to be an astronaut, but, again it's never really established or developed. Given that Greer never shows the guys inside planes or doing what they're there to do doesn't help. Greer might not have had the money or resources to put his actors into cockpits, but it makes all the flying aspirations not resonate.

There is a whole side plot about Will having vision problems that might hurt his chances of becoming a pilot or astronaut. Yet, that whole subplot goes nowhere. When a new naval pilot arrives and threatens the friendship between Dan and Will, Greer doesn't go as far as he could. The drama that could have been there could have been richer or juicier, but it feels like Greer is holding back.

Rob Mayes co-stars as Matt Blackwood, a young pilot who grew up in New York. He plays the guitar and has a fiance. He's the one who inadvertently threatens Dan and Will's friendship. When Dan starts to have an attraction for Matt and not long after Matt starts to show signs of attraction toward Dan, Will gets shut out. The comparison between Brokeback Mountain are obvious, but the better comparison would be to Eytan Fox's Yossi & Jagger (2002).

Instead of being truly about the romance or even about homophobia among the ranks, the movie is squarely about the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Greer's goal is to expose the witch hunt nature of that policy and how the policy meant to protect gay members of the military actually hurt them.

Greer then tries to bring it back to the friendship between Dan and Will, but his focus on the policy distracts so much that he can't really bring it back. The performances of Ford and Spector sell it more than anything. Supporting actors like William Lee Scott, Michael Sirow and Tammy Blanchard aid this film tremendously.

There's an odd moment with Chris Chalk (Homeland and The Newsroom) who plays the only black character, Agent Jones. He's part of the witch hunt, but it's curious as to why after he expresses what could almost be an empathetic moment. He seemingly compares the plight of a gay person to the plight of a black person. I almost wish Chalk had the role that Sirow had. Sirow plays Cokely, the leader of the witch hunt. Sirow is very good. He's a terrific young actor. He has a couple fine moments in this movie, but having Chalk there instead would have further fleshed out that odd moment.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language, some sexual content and graphic nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 44 mins.


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