Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 26, 2022)
Wow – with 2022’s Spitfire Over Berlin in my player, it feels like just the other week recently watched another movie about World War II air combat. Oh wait – I did recently watch another movie about WWII air combat.
Well-trodden as WWII territory may be, one always hopes to find a fresh approach. We’ll see if Berlin fits that bill.
Set in August 1944, Flight Lieutenant Edward Barnes (Kris Saddler) flies for the British Royal Air Force. British intelligence learns that the US Air Force might send a mission into a trap.
The Allies need someone to take on a risky reconnaissance mission to judge the danger. Barnes accepts this task and takes his chances as he flies over Berlin.
As an adolescent, I liked to make Super8 movies with my friends. This meant I created silent three-minute, 20-second stories with no practical hopes of editing, reshoots or any other filmmaking niceties.
A 12-year-old circa 2022 encounters an entirely different universe. Thanks to advances in technology, a kid today could direct a fully credible feature-length project complete with editing, visual effects, sound and all the rest.
I mention this not to pout that I didn’t enjoy such opportunities – well, not only to pout – but to indicate how now literally anyone with a few basic, reasonably inexpensive tools can make real movies. However, that doesn’t mean all these folks can create good movies.
This comes around to Berlin mainly because the flick clearly enjoys a minimal budget so it uses the aforementioned technological advances to get what it wants in the can. It turns out Berlin acts almost as a home movie since director Callum Burn takes on writing, producing, editing, acting and visual effects duties as well.
On IMDB, one can find an impassioned defense of the movie by a member of the Burn family that notes the movie’s intensely small crew and budget. My inner adolescent filmmaker admires the ambition of a DIY project like this since I wish I’d enjoyed those capabilities as a youth.
That said, while I can sympathize with the notion that we shouldn’t judge a homemade flick like Berlin by Major Studio Standards, this Blu-ray still sells for the same price as more expensive movies. As such, it deserves to be judged in the same way as any other film we’d buy – your wallet doesn’t differentiate.
Objectively, Berlin becomes a genuinely bad movie, and not simply because of limitations related to budget. Yes, those play a factor, especially in regard to the primitive visual effects, which look far from 2022 expectations.
But no, my main complaint about Berlin doesn’t relate to technical shortcomings. Instead, I fault the film because it’s so relentlessly slow and boring.
At a mere 80 minutes, Berlin should come packed with story and action. A running time that brief wouldn’t seem to leave much room for fat.
Unfortunately, Berlin ends up as all filler, no killer. After a very brief glimpse of Barnes in combat, the movie then depicts an exceedingly long sequence in which he flies idly over the English countryside.
This takes up more than 10 percent of the movie’s running time and offers no useful information. We get no character exposition and the scenes bring no obvious purpose other than to help get Berlin up to the minimum acceptable running time for a feature film.
Once Barnes lands and gets his mission, matters should improve, but they don’t. The movie continues to waste a lot of space on pedantic matters like Barnes getting in/out of his aircraft, and we get seemingly infinite shots of the pinup picture on his dashboard.
Why? I guess because Barnes seems obsessed with it, but this nonetheless adds nothing in terms of narrative and it just feels like the filler it clearly is.
As an obvious reflection of the production’s financial limitations, the vast majority of the movie simply offers shots of Barnes in the cockpit as he conducts his mission. While we get occasional glimpses of other aircraft and pilots, these views of Barnes heavily dominate the movie.
To call this uncinematic would act as a major understatement. Perhaps if Berlin gave Barnes an inner life that made him a compelling character, this could work.
But it doesn’t. Outside of his creepy fascination with that pinup, we know next to nothing about Barnes, and we really don’t care.
The film gives us no concrete reason we should invest in Barnes – beyond the basic “good guy fighting the Nazis” conceit. Berlin offers virtually no character development so we’re left with a flat, bland generic hero.
I applaud the Burn clan for their attempts to make a credible feature film despite minimal resources. Unfortunately, the end result becomes so slow and boring that it fails to turn into anything more than a fancy home movie.