Movie Review: Downfall: The Case Against Boeing
Family members of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crash victims hold photos during a vigil outside the Department of Transportation in Washington, DC Photo/Getty Images
Downfall: The Case Against Boeing (PG13 (USA), 119 min) streaming on Netflix
Directed by Rory Kennedy
Even people who enjoy long-haul flights will find Downfall sobering.
Those who are already nervous about flying will have their worst fears confirmed. The film’s director, Rory Kennedy, told Anne Thompson while interviewing her for IndieWire: “I wouldn’t be getting on a 737 Max today…due to continuing safety concerns.”
Interestingly, Robert Kennedy’s 11th child, born six months after his assassination, Rory had developed a social conscience and had become an experienced documentary filmmaker by the time of the two Boeing 737 Max crashes.
First, in October 2018, a Lion Air flight entered the Java Sea, killing 189 people. Then, in March 2019, Ethiopian Airlines crashed shortly after taking off from Addis Ababa, killing 157 people.
“If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going” was no longer a widely held saying. When Boeing began pointing fingers at pilots, Kennedy’s focus shifted from making films about addiction and exploitation, to exploring what exactly had happened behind the scenes at Boeing, to asking the key question: who to trust?
Downfall is a very well made documentary, unsurprisingly a hit at Sundance and when Kennedy pitched it to Netflix.
It gradually becomes apparent that there was a design flaw with the 737 Max, involving a jack pin that actuates the stabilizer trim by triggering the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, MCAS.
But none of the pilots of the 10,000 planes operating in 150 countries at the time had ever heard of MCAS. It was listed in the training manual, but only in abbreviations, with no explanation of what it did or what to do when activated. No simulator training involving MCAS was required, before the Lion Air crash or after.
This technical baggage is only part of the film. It is also possible to hear and sympathize with the widow of the Lion Air pilot and the father of a Lion Air victim.
Senator Peter Defazio led the investigation for the Transportation Investigative Committee, referencing Boeing’s culture of concealment, while Andy Pasztor, for the Wall St Journal, sheds light on how shared value trumps corporate responsibility.
Boeing pulled the wool over the eyes of the FAA, deliberately concealing the design flaw and offering a quick software fix. Later, the FAA brought charges against Boeing for trying to defraud it.
In the end, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg, who couldn’t look the victims’ families in the eye during the Senate hearing, resigned with a $62 million payout and after Boeing paid a fine of 2.5 billion dollars, including 500 million dollars. compensation fund for accident victims, the charges against them were dropped.
The 737 Max still flies with a single MCAS, which makes the plane susceptible to nose dive unnecessarily, such as when a balloon or bird hits its sensors.
If a traveler has made it all the way to the airlift without checking to see if it’s a 737 Max they’re boarding, Downfall strongly suggests they’re asking for trouble. Highly recommended.
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