Americana Movie Month: "Top Gun" Review


Americana Movie Month: "Top Gun" Review

-- Rating: PG (language, action sequences, some sexual content)
Length: 110 minutes
Release Date: May 16, 1986
Directed by: Tony Scott
Genre: Action/Drama/Romance

The opening sequences of "Top Gun" set the audience up for the film's many breathtaking aerial sequences, which usually involve U.S. Navy pilots encountering enemy planes known as MiGs. The first scene, however, is the only one where Goose (Anthony Edwards) uses a Polaroid camera to snap a picture of the enemy pilot while Maverick (Tom Cruise) deftly navigates their plane over the MiG in an inverted pose.

It is this type of dangerous stunt that earns Maverick both the admiration and admonishment of his peers and superiors in the Navy. Despite the stunt, or perhaps because of it, Maverick and Goose are invited to attend the Top Gun school, where the best Navy flight teams are trained in advanced aerial combat. Within hours of arriving, Maverick is pursuing Charlie (Kelly McGillis), a pretty blonde who happens to be one of his new instructors. Though Maverick obviously wants to bed her, Charlie is more interested in finding out how he got his jet upside down over a MiG. The two play cat-and-mouse for awhile before inevitably falling in love.

Things seem to be going great for Maverick and Goose, even as rival pilot Iceman (Val Kilmer) tries to steal their thunder. Sure, Maverick occasionally lets his ego get the best of him, but he manages to evade serious trouble and makes an attempt at good behavior when Goose begs him to simmer down. Just as Maverick stops getting into trouble, tragedy strikes when a flat spin caused by wake turbulence downs the pair's plane. Maverick escapes with barely a scratch, but Goose dies before his parachute even opens. Suddenly, the usually cocky Maverick has a crisis of conscience that scares him enough to make him useless inside the cockpit. When a situation emerges that calls for Maverick's skills in the air, he must work to overcome his sorrow and doubt in order to help his country.

Tom Cruise was already a rising star when "Top Gun" was released, having made a name for himself in "Risky Business" just three years earlier. Even so, "Top Gun" launched Cruise's career into the stratosphere and made him the superstar he still is today. His take on the outwardly cocky, but secretly insecure, Maverick is a fine performance with many layers that hint at the character's vulnerability. Cruise even displays his talent for carrying a tune in an infamous scene where he sings "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" to Charlie. Cruise really is the complete package here, so his leap from rising star to household name was well earned. As the star of a film that practically gave birth to 80s macho cinema, Cruise delivers a level of charisma that could have carried the film, but strong performances from Edwards and McGillis help to seal the deal.

Although the relationship between Maverick and Charlie is the central romance of the film, the real love story is between Goose and Maverick. The men are close friends who trust each other enough to strap into a close-quartered metal container every day to engage in work dangerous enough to kill them. The trust they share during flight and combat imbues their personal relationship. Sure, the chemistry between Maverick and Charlie is great, as is the chemistry between Goose and his wife Carole (Meg Ryan). Despite this, the nonromantic chemistry and intimacy between Goose and Maverick is second to none in the film, which makes the scene where Maverick is holding Goose's dead body in the ocean all the more touching and heartbreaking.

Director Tony Scott didn't have access to today's advanced CGI tools when he made "Top Gun." Instead, he used real footage of fighter jets in order to help convey the action inherent in the story's flight scenes.

There have been whispers of a "Top Gun" sequel for years, although one has yet to get off the ground. With today's technology, Cruise and company could make a spectacular film. Considering the films' huge box office intake, it is almost mindboggling that a sequel hasn't been made. Even if they never make one, "Top Gun" will still stand as a highly entertaining and timeless film.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars