Review Summary: Up there with the best of the best.
United States Naval Aviator Lieutenant Brandon "The Mormon Maverick" Flowers flies the F-14A Tomcat off the USS Island
, with Radar Intercept Officer Lieutenant Dave Keuning. At the start of the film, wingman "Cougar" and his radar intercept officer Mark "Merlin" Stoermer intercept MiG-28s over the Indian Ocean. During the engagement, one of the MiGs manages to get a missile lock on Cougar. While Flowers realizes that the MiG "would have fired by now," he surmises that the pilot still hadn’t found what he was looking for and drives off the MiGs. Cougar is too shaken afterward to land, despite being low on fuel. Flowers, a fiercely independent man who is his own master, defies orders and shepherds Cougar back to the carrier, despite also being low on fuel. After they land, Cougar turns in his wings, stating that he has been holding on "too tight" and has lost "the Edge." In a moving soliloquy, he remarks: “I want to feel sunlight on my face, see that dust cloud disappear without a trace. I want to take shelter from the poison rain.” Although disapproving of Flowers' reckless flying and repeated violation of rules, the Island’s
Commander, Barry Weiss (aka "The Jewish Stinger") sends Flowers and Keuning - now his top crew - to attend the School of American(a) Jet-Flying deep in the swamps of Jersey.
Soundtrack Suggestion: The film’s anthemic theme, “Battle Born,” rises up with a jubilant synth riff before returning to a more rollicking classic rock rhythm, one that paints the vast emptiness of the Indian Ocean with pathos and all the pent-up loneliness at the heart of Brandon Flowers in broad, carefree strokes. “We’re up against the wall,” Flowers sings, his voice soaring alongside a tasty guitar motif that spirals up and down like the F-14 Tomcats in flight. The song plays underneath the pulse-pounding opening sequence, laying out the split-second, life-and-death decisions the pilots deal with on a daily basis – guitars ring and crash alongside the firepower of these multi-million dollar aircraft. The plaintive melody at the heart of “The Way It Was” is perfect for illustrating the conflict at the heart of the wily old veteran Cougar, sick of his death-defying ways and desperate to return to a simpler time: “All our plans have fallen through / sometimes a dream don’t come true.”
Flowers flies recklessly partially because of his father, Bruce “Boss” Flowers, a Naval Aviator with VF-51 aboard the USS Nebraska
during the Gulf War. The elder Flowers died on March 31, 1992 when his McDonnell Douglas F-4 Human Touch
was shot down, and the official story, which Flowers refuses to believe, is that Bruce made a mistake. Keuning, on the other hand, is cautious and devoted to his guitar, a lovingly restored Les Paul. The two officers are nonetheless close friends and effective partners, with Keuning as the only family Flowers has. At a bar the day before the program starts, Flowers, assisted by Keuning, unsuccessfully approaches a woman by singing "Human" – to no one’s surprise, she hates the song and Flowers’ dramatic approach to karaoke. He learns the next day that she is Tana Brooke Mundkowsky, an aeronautical engineer and civilian flight instructor.
Soundtrack Suggestion: The nostalgic major-key lift of “Runaways” provides the perfect template for the familial conflict at the heart of the broken soul of Brandon Flowers. Indeed, Flowers in many ways is a runaway himself; running away from the ghost of his father’s possible mistakes, running away from responsibility, running away from becoming the man he was always destined to be. Tana Mundkowsky’s fiery personality and ability to pave her own path in a male-dominated world is well represented by the firecracker power ballad “Miss Atomic Bomb.” The female protagonist in that is strong and stubborn, perhaps the only woman able to stand up to the roguish charm of Flowers – “Your soul was innocent, she kissed him and she painted it black.”
Flowers' devil-may-care flying both annoys and impresses the straitlaced, by-the-book instructors at the school. He defeats his chief instructor in combat, but violates two rules of engagement in the process. He doesn’t care; he’s the best in the class, above any “rules,” and he knows it: “you never shine if you never burn,” Flowers confidently sneers. He continues to pursue Tana and becomes a rival to top student Lieutenant Sam Endicott, well regarded as the bravest student in the academy, who considers Flowers' methods dangerous and detrimental to the team. Although outwardly critical of Flowers' tactics, Tana eventually admits that she admires his flying but was critical because she was afraid of his titanic ego. They begin a steamy romantic relationship.
Soundtrack Suggestion: The undercurrent of tension at the heart of “Rising Tide” is similar to the increasingly foolhardy behavior of Lt. Flowers, the push-and-pull struggle between the incorrigible rebel and the established authority figures he threatens to subvert at every turn. “And the company you keep / well they plan your crucifixion as we speak,” Flowers sings prophetically. “Til the venom in your veins is satisfied / ‘til you suffocate and swallow down the pride.” The frantic synth melody signifies what is sure to be a turbulent romance between Brandon and Tana. Play alongside an adrenaline-fueled montage of Flowers ascending to the top of his class amidst a number of vicious dogfights and having passionate, illicit sex with Tana.
Near the end of the program, Flowers and Endicott both chase one of their instructors, the latter attempting to gain a missile lock on the target. Under intense pressure from Flowers, Endicott, secretly a little bitch, breaks off. Flowers' F-14 flies through the jet wash of Endicott's aircraft and suffers a flameout of both engines, entering a flat spin from which he cannot recover, forcing him and Keuning to eject. Keuning ejects directly into the jettisoned aircraft canopy and breaks his neck, dying instantly. Flowers is inconsolable and spends many nights drinking soda water and writing weepy ballads.
Soundtrack Suggestion: The fragility of human life, that snapshot in time where everything near and dear to our hero is snatched away in mere seconds; nothing but the epic, contemplative “Flesh and Bones” would do here. Such a simple question: “what are we made of?” The answer, of course, is even simpler. “Flesh and bone,” subject to decay and death, kept here only by the grace of God. Is this just what Flowers needs to accept responsibility for his brash behavior, to stand up and become a man? The hint of cautious optimism (“there’s no surrender, cause there’s no retreat / the bells have sounded, and this must end”) at the tail end of “Flesh and Bones” would seem to hint at such a transformation, but this is only the beginning of Flowers’ journey.
Although the board of inquiry clears Flowers of responsibility, he nevertheless feels guilty for Keuning's death, losing his aggressiveness when flying. Tana and others attempt to console him, but Flowers considers leaving the Navy. Unsure of his future, he seeks his chief instructor’s advice. The wizened teacher reveals that he served with Flowers's father in VF-51, and discloses classified details, explaining how Bruce stayed in the fight after his F-4 was hit and saved three planes before he died – a true American hero.
Soundtrack Suggestion: “And if they drag you through the mud / it doesn’t change what’s in your blood,” Flowers emotes over majestic piano chords and a stately beat on "Be Still", invigorated by the knowledge of his father’s true legacy. “Rise up like the sun and labor ‘til the work is done.” Indeed. Cut to multiple images of Flowers walking around the academy at the midnight hour, gazing wistfully at the stars and learning to come to grips with the legacy he must now attempt to live up to. Can the son make the father proud?
During the graduation party, Endicott, Vanucci, and Flowers are ordered to immediately report to Island
to deal with a "crisis situation", providing air support for the rescue of a stricken communications ship, the SS Day & Age
, that has drifted into hostile waters. Flowers and Stoermer are assigned to one of two F-14s as back-up for those flown by Endicott and Vanucci, despite Endicott's reservations over Flowers' state of mind. In the subsequent hostile engagement with six MiGs, Vanucci is shot down but manages to eject, while Flowers is sortied alone due to catapult failure and nearly retreats after encountering circumstances similar to those that caused Keuning's death. Upon finally rejoining Endicott, who had curiously disappeared when he was needed the most, they shoot down four MiGs and force the others to flee, and return triumphantly to Island
. Offered any assignment he chooses, Flowers decides to return to the school as an instructor (which the Jewish Stinger jokingly expresses horror at the thought of). Now proud of his heritage and the tradition of self-sacrifice and service his father had passed down to him, Flowers takes the callsign “Battle Born” as his own.
Soundtrack Suggestion: The Killers song/Eagles cover “From Here On Out” delivers the appropriately intrepid attitude that symbolizes Flowers’ metamorphosis from a wild card with few friends and fewer loyalties to a hero and the consummate teammate. “Hallelujah! The trouble’s gone / no sense in holding grudges and it’s better to forgive / these are things I must learn to practice while I live,” Flowers sings as a red-blooded guitar riff cries out like the triumphant screech of a bald eagle.
Sitting alone in a restaurant in Atlantic City, Flowers hears "Human” playing on the jukebox and recalls meeting Tana. From now on, he promises himself, he will stay true to his heart and to his country; above all, he is now a true patriot. More importantly, he will treat his love with the respect she deserves. Tana enters the bar and the two reunite to the sounds of red, white and blue fireworks and the raucous applause of the hooligans at the bar. The story ends on an uplifting note, the star-crossed lovers now one and the story of Brandon Flowers just beginning . . . the story of Battle Born
Cue End Credits. Soundtrack Suggestion: Our “Battle Born” theme takes us full circle, that noble guitar melody dripping testosterone and unadulterated horsepower, and Flowers’ voice reaching new heights, enjoying the fruits of his success and the endless possibilities ahead of him and Tana: “Remember what I said / boy you was battle born / and you can’t stop now.” The film closes on an idyllic New Jersey coastline, far above the wafting scent of garbage and the brackish water, in a classic American muscle car parked far above the shoals. Brandon and Tana sit arm-in-arm in the front seat, gazing out at the waters of the American coast as fireworks pop and burst above them, a great kaleidoscope representing our country’s freedom and all its untapped, unbounded potential. It is great to be alive in America, and in love.