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Film Review: “Flight/Risk” Is a Powerful Takedown of Corporate Greed

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | September 9th, 2022

Film poster: “Flight/Risk”

Flight/Risk (Karim Amer/Omar Mullick, 2022) 3 out of 4 stars.

Founded in 1916 by William E. Boeing in Seattle, Washington, the Boeing Company has since grown into one of the world’s biggest aerospace manufacturers, with its only real rival for market share the European Airbus. It has long been a model of high-tech engineering and business acumen, with especial emphasis on the former, until recently, when the latter imperative began to take prominence. Remember the recent Boeing 737 MAX accidents and ensuing scandal? They are at the heart of Flight/Risk, the gripping and heartbreaking new documentary from directors Karim Amer (The Great Hack) and Omar Mullick (These Birds Walk).

In clear, precise strokes, they explain how the once-meticulous company started to take shortcuts in the name of shareholder profits, leading to the launch of the deeply flawed 737 MAX. Worse, many at Boeing knew of the problems with the plane, yet minimized or directly lied about them. The absolute worst facts relate to how the new vessel came with software to correct a navigation issue, and how that detail was never mentioned to pilots, who then found themselves battling a computer program they knew nothing about, leading to a fatal crash.

Ed Pierson in FLIGHT RISK. Courtesy of Prime Video ©Amazon Content Services LLC

Amer and Mullick interview surviving family members of the many deceased, their lawyers, and a few whistleblowers, foremost amongst them former senior manager on the 737 MAX development, Ed Pierson. No one currently working for Boeing participated in the making of this film, which means the only statements we get from company executives are via testimony and interviews from other sources. Needless to say, they do not come across well.

And why should they? Dennis Muilenburg, the now-departed CEO, insisted everything was safe, even though it’s clear he knew better. As an avatar of everything wrong with late-stage capitalism, he is the perfect bogeyman, though hardly alone. Steve Dickson, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), is not much better, acting more as an agent of Boeing than someone beholden to the population he ostensibly serves. That’s a big sidebar here: the back and forth between government and industry jobs, the line blurring between the gatekeepers and wolves. Thanks to Dickson, the MAX is flying again. Check your next ticket: it could be your plane.

Still from FLIGHT/RISK. Courtesy of Prime Video ©Amazon Content Services LLC

Americans are not the sole protagonists here, given that the two big accidents took place in Indonesia and Ethiopia. Zipporah Kuria, a Kenyan British woman, is a central figure in the drama, fighting for justice (her father died in the second crash and the family only received 30% of his remains). Alongside her is attorney Justin Green, determined, for once, to make sure that foreign nationals (specifically people of color) receive the same compensation as those from the United States.

It’s not the most brilliantly visual movie in terms of its aesthetic. In fact, I would describe it as somewhat pedestrian in its approach to the material. It also traffics a little too much in the style of sensationalistic investigative television documentaries (that music!). I had my hopes up after a beautiful opening overhead shot of the ocean, which was pretty spectacular, and then the film never quite rose to that same cinematic level. I did, however, appreciate the many interstitial shots of cities and suburbs in which the directors always managed to place a plane in the sky, reminding us of the danger.

Zipporah Kuria in FLIGHT RISK. Courtesy of Prime Video ©Amazon Content Services LLC

The story, full of righteous outrage, is what makes it. I recommend the documentary to everyone, even though it will make you never want to fly again. Flight/Risk is, throughout, a powerful takedown of corporate greed.

[9/11/22 Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected to fix an error stating that Zipporah Kuria is of Ethiopian background, rather than Kenyan British. We regret the error.]

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), as well as a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is a former cohost of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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