Critics' Pick

Charlie Victor Romeo (NR)

Documentary 90 min. January 28, 2014
By Stephanie Zacharek
There's something highly unnatural, and undeniably wonderful, about the way we so casually step into these winged metal shells and emerge, just a few hours later, half a world away. But human flight is a miracle of science, and every once in a while, because of engineering issues or even just a stray Canada goose, the promise of science can stumble. At that point, something more natural and human takes over — the response of the pilot and crew means everything. That's one of the ideas at the heart of Charlie Victor Romeo, a taut, effective little picture whose dialogue consists wholly of transcriptions of actual cockpit recordings, most of them from flights that ultimately crashed. (The movie takes its title from the code used for "cockpit voice recorder.") The film is an adaptation of a play first staged in New York in 1999, and it was shot in 3-D on bare-bones sets with a small group of actors. The picture dramatizes the final minutes leading up to six aircraft disasters, minutes in which flight crews scramble to gain control of their planes, attempting to navigate using old-school methods after all of their electronic instruments have failed. A rotating cast of actors plays the various crew members, mostly pilots and copilots, with the occasional flight attendant popping in. That setup may sound too resolutely conceptual to be emotionally effective, but the movie's restraint -- its refusal to overdramatize events that are inherently dramatic — makes it feel immediate and vital. Charlie Victor Romeo shows us how much of life's weight and meaning can be packed into one second of thought or action; it's a work of shivery intimacy.
Robert Berger, Karlyn Michelson Sam Zuckerman, Robert Berger, Patrick Daniels, Nora Woolley, Irving Gregory, Noel Dinneen, Debbie Troche Irving Gregory, Robert Berger

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