By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on January 18, 2014)
Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and Roger Corman’s The Raven aside, I can’t name too many mystery thrillers with an ornithological twist (no, The Maltese Falcon doesn’t count, because as Sidney Greenstreet once pointed out, “It’s fake! It’s a phony!”). So how do you feel about storks? I’m a little ambivalent about them myself; haven’t given them much thought. I do appreciate that they deliver the babies, but between you, me, and the fence post…I have long harbored a suspicion that it might be some kind of an urban myth.
Nonetheless, storks do figure prominently in a thriller called (wait for it) Flight of the Storks. The 2012 French made-for-television film, directed by Jan Koun and co-adapted by Jean-Christophe (from his own 1994 novel) and Denis McGrath, is migraged around the U.S. as a 3-hour theatrical presentation. A bit tough to, erm, pigeonhole; it is an oddball cross between Winged Migration and The Boys from Brazil.
Harry Treadaway stars as Jonathan, a young English researcher working as an assistant to a self-styled amateur ornithologist named Max (Danny Keogh) who is conducting a study on the migratory habits of storks who fly from Switzerland to Africa and back. It seems that the number of returnees has been dwindling; Max wants to literally follow the storks along their route and see if he can figure out why. Unfortunately, he’ll never get a chance to solve that mystery, because within the opening five minutes of the film, Jonathan discovers Max’s partially devoured body atop a stork’s nest at his home. Jonathan decides to carry on with Max’s planned journey solo, after reluctantly promising to keep an oddly creepy Swiss detective (Clemens Schick) apprised of his location at all times.
Jonathan’s itinerary seems to follow the migratory habits of 007, as opposed to the storks. One day he’s partying in a nightclub in Bulgaria, a few days later he’s traipsing around Istanbul, next thing we know he’s bedding down with a hot Israeli babe on a kibbutz. Then, it’s off to the Congo. Oh, and along the way, he’s shadowed by assorted shady characters trying to kill him, usually not long after he discovers yet another one of Max’s associates has turned up dead. The closer Jonathan gets to the Congo (where he lived as a child with his late parents, who were both doctors) the more he begins to ponder some mysteries regarding his own past. I can say no more .
While the plot feels gratuitously byzantine, I was hooked until the end by the central mystery. Treadaway gives a compelling performance; as does the lovely photography and exotic locales. It was an unexpected treat to see Rutger Hauer pop up late in the film (where the hell has he been?). I have to a bone to pick regarding the lack of subtitles, which I found mildly irritating. The dialog is predominately in English, but there are several exchanges (in several different languages) that I felt were lengthy enough to warrant them. That aside…you could do worse with 3 hours of your time.