Entertainment » Movies

Burning Blue

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Jun 6, 2014
A scene from 'Burning Blue'
A scene from 'Burning Blue'  

Now that the anti-gay policy known as "Don't Ask Don't Tell" is history, we might gain some perspective on just how counter-productive, needless, and even harmful to our nation's armed forces DADT really was.

"Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue" was a compromise measure resulting from a backlash to then-President Clinton's wish to integrate the military fully, so that GLBT servicemembers could serve openly. The policy's text stated that as long as a serving military member stayed quiet about his or her sexuality, he or she would be left alone to serve. In practice, however, gay and lesbian servicemembers found themselves the subjects of snooping, spying, and involuntary outing, which led as surely to their dismissal as if they had stepped forward to announce themselves.

D.M.W. Greer directs and co-writes "Burning Blue," a film that examines anti-gay sentiment in the military. This institutionalized homophobia comes not so much from the rank and file or the officers (though a resentful subordinate, dressed down for poor performance, takes the opportunity to cause trouble for his superior), but from the Naval bureaucracy. After several pilots are killed in the span of a couple of months aboard the same aircraft carrier, NCIS launches a probe into the vessel's command staff and zeroes in on Daniel (Trent Ford), an admiral's son, who was spotted at a gay bar during leave in New York.

It's the year 2000. DADT is in full swing, and gay and lesbian servicemembers are being hounded and discharged left and right. Daniel is engaged to be married, and in fact he'd had sex with a woman he met at the bar on the night in question. But another young, handsome Navy pilot, Matthew (Rob Mayes), shared the hotel room where the passionate goings-on took place, though with his own female date; did the two guys actually do anything together? And if they did, has there been anything between them other than a one-time experiment?

While the agents investigating the pilot deaths concoct wild stories of a "gay cell" that's destroying morale and cohesion aboard the carrier, the pilots stick together in a show of unity -- even though the investigation casts a wider and wider net that seizes upon "evidence" such as a playful picture of several naked pilots frolicking together as proof positive of a wild gay on-board subculture.

The gay witch-hunt is more than a distraction. As it happens, Daniel really is in love with Matthew, who loves him back -- but not enough to junk his career. "If we're careful, we can do this," Daniel says at one point, only to hear, "To get to the top, you need to make some sacrifices."

For Daniel's best friend, William (Morgan Spector), the investigation risks blowing the lid off a real problem: His failing eyesight, which might have played a role in an accident several years earlier. Daniel's actions in covering up the true reason for the accident saved William's career, but with William, Daniel, and Matthew all vying for a handful of coveted spots in an elite program, any faint waft of scandal, past or present, could be their undoing. Moreover, William -- though straight -- is feeling acutely jealous: As the Navy has taught him to do, he has formed a close bond with Daniel, and with Matthew on the scene he now feels he's being shut out.

The movie benefits from the addition of "Boner," a character played by William Lee Scott. Boner -- or Charlie Trumbo, as he's known outside the pilots' close-knit circle -- plays up his hick background and tells outrageous sex stories as a means of easing group tensions. About Daniel's gay club excursion, all he has to say is the obvious: "The music's better and the people are more fun."

Anyone who thinks gays harm military morale hasn't met a guy like this: A man so assured about his own sexuality that he can engage in erotic horseplay without fear. Scott's performance throws a hard, contemptuous light on the film's bureaucratic heavies, who interrogate Daniel with prurient, almost panting, intensity.

The film also benefits from footage of an actual aircraft carrier: This is not an expensive film, but it sporadically achieves a big-budget level of gloss thanks to some clever camera work and editing. Think of this as "Top Gun" as it might have been -- without the big bucks and the backing of a military keen to use the film as a motion picture equivalent of a recruitment poster, but with a highly charged sexual current between its male leads.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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