Downfall: The Case Against Boeing Review
Two real-world tragedies serve as the foundation to an expose on one of the top companies in the aerospace industry. Downfall: The Case Against Boeing is an often infuriating look at The Boeing Company, whose airplanes carry millions of lives every day and is now having its reputation for safety come under fire. Director Rory Kennedy focuses Downfall to a fault, trapping itself in a redundant exploration of Boeing’s history of safety and the corruption that cracked the facade.
The Boeing 737 MAX is the focal point of Kennedy’s thesis, taking a look at two instances in 2018 and 2019 when the passenger airline crashed, killing over 300 people due to corporate negligence. It’s a horror story that is instantly felt by most people due to the prevalence of Boeing in the airline industry and the likelihood that your next flight will be on a Boeing. However, it’s the specifics of the 737 MAX that give Downfall: The Case Against Boeing an interesting angle to approach a company corrupted by capitalism.
The MCAS system (Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System) and its haphazard implementation into a new airplane accentuates why the 737 MAX and the tragedies associated aren’t just depressing: they’re avoidable. It’s that culpability and the ferocity with which Kennedy and his film goes after Boeing that provides an unbridled energy that gets funneled into a very narrow focus. Watching the events unfold in those first thirty minutes leaves a bold impression as it sets the stage for a critique of the airplane manufacturer.
What makes Downfall a fascinating documentary is its overview of Boeing as a safety-first company – one whose reputation has propelled them to be one of the most profitable companies in the industry. A powerhouse that seemed impossible to topple, Kennedy goes through the years leading up to the first crash in 2018, giving a history of the airplane industry as well as how not one, but two crashes could happen on planes built by a company known for its dedication to safety. Experts in the field and former employees all paint a damning portrait of a company that fell to greed at the expense of others.
Unfortunately, where the film struggles is its very specific case study and a general refusal to branch out further. Competitors are referenced in passing, but hardly talked about with regards to safety – the metric it chooses to measure Boeing by. It also feels a bit too slick in its presentation, causing a shallowness to many of the subplots involving families of the passengers who died. Often they pop up to remind the audience of the same thing every other plot point seems to bring up: Boeing only cares about money. Which the film essentially recenters its entire narrative around once its introduced the two crashes, effectively sidelining the bereaved families.
However, that slickness also leads to a much more digestible film as Downfall: The Case Against Boeing not only has the unenviable task of trying to break down all of the jargon associated with the airplane industry, but it also has to cover the minutiae that led to the 737 MAX’s inception and subsequent grounding. It is a fascinating case study that is made extremely palatable for even the most uninformed viewer. There’s just a point in which it is repeating recreations of flights, reminding audiences of its sleek presentation over providing new information.
Downfall: The Case Against Boeing is enlightening to a degree. As a specific case study, it contextualizes the tragic events that unfolded while teaching viewers about the industry and why an event like this doesn’t just happen from bad luck. For a relatively flawless track record to suddenly be tarnished to this extreme – and that it can be so obviously linked to very specific decisions – only emphasizes that a tragedy like this should never have happened. Kennedy’s film finds the fury to keep itself motivated. It’s just unfortunate that it doesn’t sustain itself with much else.Watch Downfall: The Case Against Boeing