We know it’s inevitable that facts must be exaggerated or reinterpreted to better suit a coherent narrative. Yes, unlike in Selma, President Lyndon B. Johnson was an enthusiastic partner of Martin Luther King Jr. No Alan Turing did not single-handedly decrypt the German Enigma Code. And if the relationship between Mark Schultz and John DuPont had any homoerotic undertones then it is impossible that Foxcatcher writers Frye and Futterman could have known about it.
However it is possible for a film to be too married to the truth. After all these lies are told in service of the story. Factually accurate procedurals might have all the hard-hitting truth but lack the powerful dramatic beats of a memorable story, as life often does. This is the position A Dark Reflection finds itself in and, narrative issues aside, it should be commended for its commitment to the facts.
The film is directed by Tristan Loraine, a former airline Captain who lost his medical certificate in 2006 and has since been unable to fly. Loraine maintains that his diminished health was due to repeated exposure to contaminated cabin air.
After training at the National Film and Television School much of his career has been dedicated to voicing his concerns. Both his debut documentary Welcome Aboard Toxic Airlines and the upcoming Aerotoxic are investigations into air cabin contamination. A Dark Reflection is the first dramatisation of Loraine’s investigation into the airlines and it’s here we reach the problem with commitment to the cause.
A Dark Reflection is only tangentially concerned with telling a gripping investigative drama about corporate corruption. Rather it simply wants to use the framework of a genre film to discuss its issue. It begins like you would expect any other thriller to begin, with world-weary journalist Helen Eastman (Gerogina Sutcliffe) discovering her air traffic controller boyfriend Joe (TJ Herbert) has been suspended from work following a near-miss.
With the incident being kept quiet Helen begins to investigate and learns the truth behind the crash, pilots are falling unconscious mid-flight due to toxins in the cabin air.
And that’s…really all the film wants to say. The remainder of the film is simply piling up evidence and attempting to bring the facts to public attention. All the while the airline in question continues to monitor and block the investigation. There’s no bribing the police to intimidate Helen, no scenes of regulators being slipped hush money, no pilots dying in midair. None of the sexy, exciting stuff you’d expect from this type of film. It isn’t even resolved with some big, scandalous expose piece that has the airline CEO’s arrested. They just make the bare minimum adjustments required to stop this from happening. A win for the good guys but kind of an anti-climactic one.
But then A Dark Reflection doesn’t want a big climax. It simply wants to share the facts, or at least its interpretation of the facts (lots of this is still speculative). While that might be admirable it doesn’t make for a great film. As much as it sucks to pander you need all that suspense-building schlock mentioned earlier because it’s the source of drama and a film is nothing without drama.
Conflict between parties are what drives story and provokes your audience’s emotions. After all the reason that films based on real events embellish the facts is because great stories are not about facts, they’re about truths.
A Dark Reflection is out in UK cinemas today.