Memphis Belle runs just around an hour and fifty minutes. It takes the film about a half hour before it’s even clear the titular plane is going to have a mission in the narrative. It opens with a masterful introduction to the characters and the situation (a bomber has one more mission before the crew completes their tour of duty). There are a lot of problems with Monte Merrick’s script, but his framing is great. He has the PR officer (played by John Lithgow) introduce everyone; it works beautifully in the narrative.
Caton-Jones’s composition is fantastic from the first shot. Too bad Merrick’s writing falls apart. First, it’s little things, like D.B. Sweeney—the only character to openly scared—having some lame dialogue. It’s not too damaging… but then Eric Stoltz’s part gets bigger. And Stoltz is truly awful. With so many principals, Merrick’s already resorting to caricature. He proceeds to give Stoltz, who’s laughable, too much attention.
But Merrick and Caton-Jones also awkwardly make the captain useless. Matthew Modine has the less to do than any other actor, including David Strathairn as the base commander. At least Strathairn has some real dialogue. Modine just gets to look scared.
There are some great performances though. Billy Zane gives the film’s best performance, but Reed Diamond and Tate Donovan are excellent as well.
The special effects are good. George Fenton’s music is lame. The sound design is great.
While it’s not terrible, it’s too bad Memphis Belle isn’t good.
Directed by Michael Caton-Jones; written by Monte Merrick; director of photography, David Watkin; edited by Jim Clark; music by George Fenton; production designer, Stuart Craig; produced by David Puttnam and Catherine Wyler; released by Warner Bros.
Starring Matthew Modine (Capt. Dennis Dearborn), Eric Stoltz (Sgt. Danny Daly), Tate Donovan (1st Lt. Luke Sinclair), D.B. Sweeney (Lt. Phil Lowenthal), Billy Zane (Lt. Val Kozlowski), Sean Astin (Sgt. Richard Moore), Harry Connick Jr. (Sgt. Clay Busby), Reed Diamond (Sgt. Virgil Hoogesteger), Courtney Gains (Sgt. Eugene McVey), Neil Giuntoli (Sgt. Jack Bocci), David Strathairn (Col. Craig Harriman) and John Lithgow (Lt.Col. Bruce Derringer).