‘Black box’ review: Sifting through the pieces of a suspicious plane crash

Buckle up. “Black Box” is the kind of smart, taut conspiracy thriller Hollywood used to make on a regular basis, only this one comes from France, which has beaten American studios at their own game lately in the film department. good adult movies. (Heck, most countries now do a better job than the United States of respecting the intelligence of the public.) Centered on the eponymous device, recovered from a freak plane crash, this engaging albeit slightly overlong film stars Pierre Niney as an obsessive forensic analyst who hears the words “Allahu Akbar!” on a salvaged cockpit voice recorder and can’t quite believe his ears.

If the setup sounds a bit like Brian De Palma’s “Blow Out,” that’s not a bad thing, except “Black Box” focuses on high-altitude hijinks, rather than a Chappaquiddick-style car crash. . Opening the film in the air, director Yann Gozlan leaves the crisis to the imagination, activating our neurons rather than our adrenaline receptors as he backs from the cockpit, through the cabin, to the tail of the plane, where the black box is stored. Fun fact: these devices are now bright orange, not black, but they were called that back in the days when flight recorders used photosensitive material.

Audiences may recognize Niney as the lovable young actor who played Yves Saint Laurent, though he appears here as buttoned-up and borderline autistic as a dweeby investigator from the Bureau of Investigation and analysis, so intense that it is almost unsympathetic. His character, Mathieu Vasseur, would have loved to be a pilot, but his sight founded that career. Now he overcompensates by being better at his desk job than anyone else needs him to be – especially the BEA boss (André Dussollier) who would be just as happy to sweep a commercial plane crash under the rug.

If it was really a terrorist attack, it could mean war, although such an explanation would certainly be more convenient for corporate interests than a malfunction of an instrument. After presenting to the public the stages of conducting such a post-mortem, Mathieu stands up during a press conference and draws a Colin Powell: his premature conclusions leave the airline off the hook.

Then Mathieu’s manager (Olivier Rabourdin) disappears and he begins to sniff out his free time. Matthew begins to hear how pilots are not getting the training they need to use the new autopilot system. This detail appears to be taken directly from a real-life case involving Boeing’s 737 MAX planes, which were grounded after two high-profile crashes: Lion Air Flight 610 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. The controversy is detailed in the Netflix documentary “Aftershock.” which points to problems in a system where engineers working for the company have been given the authority to certify their own aircraft, rather than relying on the FAA.

Much of the contemporary public’s distrust of corporations stems from decades of Hollywood films chastising them for prioritizing profits over safety. But there are complicated legal and political reasons why movies like “Silkwood” aren’t made as often today. Instead, we get generic Trumpian villains of the largely mindless variety — which makes a movie like this, unafraid of wading through technical weeds, all the more rewarding. The film unfolds like a Michael Crichton page-turner: informed by real science, heightened by human-interest details, like the recurring girlfriend (Lou de Laâge) who’s gone to work for the enemy.

Gozlan and co-writers Simon Moutaïrou and Nicolas Bouvet-Levrard imagine a sort of Achilles heel through which someone can hack into the entertainment system and override the cockpit controls, thereby controlling the plane remotely. It’s a terrifying idea, because air travel is scary enough for those who are already afraid to put their lives in someone else’s hands.

Now imagine if someone could do the same thing to the computer inside your car. “Black Box” takes those fears and wraps them up in an elegant and surprising procedural. Since it’s French, there’s no guarantee we’ll get the kind of happy ending American audiences are used to. (Actually, the last act caters to a different kind of French cliche.) But it’s still satisfying, even if looking inside that particular black box might make your next flight even more turbulent.