Wednesday, 5 August 2015

jet storm

a man walks onto a plane with a bomb and threatens to blow it up in order to take revenge on a world he no longer cares for. if released today it would be considered dark and controversial. if released in the 1980s it would be die hard on a plane. but this is 1959, the man with the bomb is richard attenborough and the film is jet storm.

ernest tilley (attenborough) boards a plane from london to new york after strapping a bomb to the wing. he does this because he has discovered the man who killed his daughter in a drunk driving incident several years earlier will be travelling on that flight. but tilley isn't interested in killing one man, he wants to take out the whole plane because he wants revenge on the society that allowed this man to exist. tilley announces his attentions when the plane is in the air and it's up to the captain, (stanley baker) to figure out a way to stop him, before the passengers take matters into their own hands.

while jet storm features some tense moments, particularly in the final act, this isn't a typical thriller-on-a-plane movie. tilley is essentially conducting a social experiment - he wants to see how quickly our society falls apart under threat of imminent destruction. as such, the plane is populated by people from all walks of life - an elderly woman, a married couple with an 8 year old child, a middle-aged widow and a couple going through a divorce among others. as the plane is on the way to new york there are a few american characters onboard too. then there is the captain and his crew. as a snapshot of late-fifties society (or at least those in 1950s society able to fly to new york) it works for the purposes of tilley's experiment. one by one, we see the more paranoid passengers crack and soon there are two factions on the plane - those who wish to solve the problem through negotiation and those who wish to solve it through violence. in setting up the story like this, the film becomes a timeless essay on terrorism and how we handle it that still feels relevant now, perhaps even more so.

however, not every aspect of the film seems timeless, and in fact the captain and the passengers' response to tilley's threat is astounding compared to today's high security air travel. the passengers actually speculate over whether tilley could be carrying a gun and discuss the consequences of that, which suggests that boarding a plane with a gun in 1959 would actually be a fairly straightforward undertaking. tilley isn't even searched until some time after he announces his plot, and earlier we see him plant the bomb in full view of the passengers and crew. this is certainly a different world to the one we live in now, although in other ways it's strangely similar.

the cast do a great job with the script, with even the minor characters managing to suggest so much about their lives in a few choice lines of dialogue. attenborough is great as the deranged tilley, managing to retain enough humanity to make us sympathise with him despite his actions. that said, his performance does wander into pantomime crazy on occasion, but this does provide a nice contrast to the restraint and subtlety of stanley baker's performance as the captain.

together these performances enhance what is ultimately a story about human frailty that concludes with a revelation that is both reassuring and terrifying. tilley is ultimately shown up to be an overgrown child, with a childlike view of the world that doesn't take in the complexity of the human experience. on one hand, this makes him more open to reason, but at the same time it gives him the potential to do great harm. as comment on terrorism, this seems eerily prescient.

whatever you make of the themes of the film, jet storm is a neat, contained thriller that races by at great pace with some nice moments of drama and tension along the way and can certainly hold its own against more contemporary thrillers.

simply media will be releasing jet storm on dvd on 17 august 2015

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