This review was originally published by Little White Lies in June 2013.
Work is important to Frankie (Helen McCrory), the central protagonist in Katarzyna Klimkiewicz’s Flying Blind. You can tell by the purposeful way she strides to her car with a briefcase, the way her colleague is forced to pluck the headphones from her ears to ask if she’s coming out for a drink (the answer is a crisp “no”), and the way she lives alone in an immaculate, conspicuously spacious flat. She also says things like, “my work comes first”, on several occasions. In case you were still in any doubt.
Being an aerospace engineer, Frankie’s work involves designing drones: cutting-edge weapons of war, responsible for the deaths of thousands. But the lethal end-game of her labour doesn’t seem to concern her much. When a student asks her if she feels ethically compromised, she dismisses the question coolly, suggesting that anyone who uses the internet is equally complicit in the machinations of the military. It’s only when she falls for Kahil, a younger, French-Algerian man, that her steely single-mindedness starts to crumble.
Kahil is an engineering student – or at least he was until he lost his legal immigration status – and he proves utterly irresistible to Frankie. As the unlikely couple’s relationship intensifies, she becomes increasingly distracted from her job, and distant from her father – the only person she is really close to. But much of Kahil’s life still remains a mystery to her, and when she is warned that he is a person of interest to MI5, prejudice rushes in to fill the gap of understanding.
Romance aside, this is a story about paranoia and profiling, entrenched in society and promulgated by the state. The twists and turns of Naomi Wallace, Bruce McLeod, and Caroline Harrington’s thriller screenplay are a little clunky, but the plot still manages to draw incriminating lines between personal lives and political policies; between the domestically-designed drones that drop bombs on foreign lands and the planes that take the deported away from British soil. Flying Blind explores – albeit cursorily – some compelling and timely concepts.
While it attempts to plug into current affairs, some aspects of the film seem a little dated. It’s refreshing to see that rare thing, a central role for an older actress, in the character of Frankie. And the usually excellent Helen McCrory does her best with the part. Frankie is a self-sufficient, highly-motivated woman (one, like Maya in the recent Zero Dark Thirty, with a morally dubious job).
But the flipside of her achievement is isolation – a situation implied, but not interrogated. The viewer is on the one hand asked to question their suspicion of Kahil, but on the other encouraged to see Frankie as equally suspect, to view her success as a symptom of a sort of lack. In a depressingly familiar conclusion, she loses everything, having failed to have it all.