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Film / Flight of the Intruder

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Starring Willem Dafoe's mustache!

A 1991 movie based on a novel of the same name by Stephen Coonts, taking place during the Vietnam War. It follows the exploits of Lieutenant Jake "Cool Hand" Grafton following the death of his Bombadier-Navigator during a pointless air strike.

The film stars Danny Glover, Willem Dafoe and Brad Johnson as Grafton. It was directed by John Milius.

Tropes of the Intruder:

  • Ace Pilot: A subversion, as "Cool Hand" Grafton is a bomber pilot. That said, he's considered to be an exceptionally skilled one.
    • There is a scene in a bar featuring a game where someone rides a chair down a rail towards a mud pit. They have to pull the lever dropping a hook just in time to catch the wire to stop them. Pull the lever too soon or too late, and they get launched into the mud pit. A fighter pilot tries and fails, then Jake tries it and succeeds.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The ending is tightened up a bit by the removal of the Air Force Major, and thus his entire mini-arc, from the end of the book. His Heroic Sacrifice instead goes to Tiger Cole, calling in an airstrike on himself because the NVA are using him as bait. A lot more of the supporting characters are otherwise directly involved, however, with Grafton saving Commander Camparelli rather than Tiger Cole.
  • Airstrike Impossible: The one-plane SAM City bombing mission.
    • And because the bombs didn't drop the first time due to a malfunction, they have to do it again.
  • Anachronism Stew: The A-6E wasn't fielded in Vietnam during the setting of the film, but this was forgivable as all previous A and B models had been refit. What's not forgivable is a song by Stevie Ray Vaughan (from 1988) being played during a bar fight, despite the film being set in 1971.
  • Anti-Air: Given the protagonists' role as ground-attack pilots, tasked with flying at low altitude, they find themselves constantly exposed to virtually every flavor of this imaginable, often with horrifying results. Late in the film, Cole and Grafton decide to get some payback by attacking SAM City.
  • Bar Brawl: One that involves a crocodile, starting with a merchant seaman calling Chief McRae (Ving Rhames) a racial slur, Grafton immediately punching the guy out, and escalating from there. When it's over, one of the A-6 pilots helps the Chief hold the racist face-to-face with the croc while the Chief declares, "Repeat after me, boy: Black is beautiful!"
  • Berserk Button: While he is more than willing to perform airstrikes that kill hundreds of enemy troops, Grafton does not want to be reminded of how many peoples' deaths he has personally caused in his air strikes.
    • Commander Camparelli seems to have almost nothing but berserk buttons. Or at least, Grafton seems incapable of doing anything except push them.
  • Broken Ace: Grafton is intensely frustrated by the way the Vietnam War is being prosecuted, with ridiculous targets like a "road junction" (empty jungle in the middle of nowhere) or a "suspected truck park" (described as "two tents under a tree") costing lives every day. He hatched his Airstrike Impossible plan out of a burning desire to actually do something that matters for a change.
  • Burial at Sea: Morg receives this after being killed by the "peasant with a rifle".
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The Phantom Shitter. This nasty little prank is officially recognized by the US Navy as a sign of excessive boredom on a ship.
  • Coming in Hot: In the beginning of the film. There isn't anything particularly wrong with their plane, but Grafton's Bombadier-Navigator has been mortally wounded, and Jake is frantically trying to help control the bleeding with one hand while trying to land the plane with the other. They almost crash upon landing and Morg dies from blood loss.
  • Cool Plane:
    • Half of the point of the movie is that the Grumman A-6 Intruder could be considered an aversion. Limited to subsonic speeds, carrying no guns or air-to-air weapons, and resembling nothing so much as a giant tadpole with wings, the Intruder is as uncool as it gets, but is remarkably good at what it does, which is low-level attack, often at night. That said, part of the film does feature a variant of the Intruder designed to go after anti-aircraft radar sites, intentionally exposing itself to enemy fire in order to get the bad guy to reveal himself.
    • The Douglas A-1 Skyraider, call sign "Sandy", is a cool plane just because it's a prop-driven attack plane in a war that's two decades into the jet age. It was also exceptionally good at its role, even in 1972.
  • Composite Character: Several supporting characters get merged (or get callsigns from other characters who are written out. Notably, New Guy becomes Razor, and Tiger Cole gets Razor's Porn Stache and Major Allen's fate.
  • Cool Ship: The USS Independence. It's a supercarrier that can carry and launch upwards of a hundred jets.
  • Death from Above: More often than not, the main characters. During the climax of the film, the US Air Force A-1 "Sandy" attack planes as well, which we get to see strafing and bombing the North Vietnamese Army troops and dealing out a Mercy Kill to Tiger Cole.
  • Desk Jockey: The Intel officer is obviously not an aviator.
  • Dual Wielding: Grafton during the finale.
  • Ejection Seat: Played straight, twice, and averted once when a pilot chooses to try and evade the missile and fails.
    Grafton: Well, this is the end of Devil Five- O - Five. Say goodbye, asshole!
    Cole: Goodbye Asshole!
    Grafton: Eject... Eject... Eject...
  • Establishing Character Moment: Pilots and BNs are gearing up for the day's mission. Most of them are packing compact .38 revolvers that don't take up much space and won't be good for much except a holdout piece should they get shot down. Recently-reassigned "Tiger" Cole, who has hardly said five consecutive words to anyone yet, is packing an M1911 .45, extra magazines, and a large fighting knife, suggesting he intends to keep fighting if he bails out. He later confides in Grafton that he's been shot down before, and lost his pilot and best friend.
  • Every Helicopter Is a Huey: Averted. The one time a helicopter is featured in the film, it is an HH-3 "Jolly Green Giant" rescue chopper, easily recognized for being designed with a boat-hull for a lower body, being designed for amphibious operationsnote .
  • Fatal Family Photo: The Boxman dies soon after receiving a letter from a Filipina girlfriend saying they're having a baby.
  • Feet of Clay: The fighter jock in the bar.
    Grafton (facetiously): Hey, are you really a fighter pilot?
    Fighter Jock: Never ask someone if he's a fighter pilot. If he is, he'll tell ya. If he's not, you'll just embarrass him!
  • Fun with Acronyms: A number of acronyms are used without explanation, such as...
    • Tiger Cole's last words: "Alfa, Mike, Foxtrot," is military slang for "Adios, Mother Fuckers.", making this a Genius Bonus Precision F-Strike as well.
    • They call the anti-aircraft missiles "Sam": Surface to Air Missile
  • Guns Akimbo: How Grafton takes out the sniper at the climax of the film.
  • Guy in Back: Due to the way their plane is designed, he's actually a Guy On The Right. The Bombadier-Navigators. note 
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Tiger Cole is badly injured after bailing out, and knows the NVA is camping nearby to use him as bait against any would-be rescuers. He also knows that Jake Grafton will try to save him, blundering right into an ambush. So instead he orders an air strike on his own position.
  • High-Speed Missile Dodge: The pilots find themselves having to dive towards incoming missiles more than once in order to force them to overshoot. One pilot fails to do this, and is killed by the Splash Damage when the missile detonates near his plane. This really was the best way to evade the SA-2 missiles used by the North Vietnamese.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: Grafton, Razor, and Tiger Cole freely admit to taking part in the Bar Brawl, thus being at least partially responsible for many of the ensuing damages, and for evading the Shore Patrols so they could get back to the ship. They swear the crocodile was unharmed when they left the bar, however.
  • Ironic Nickname: Razor, decided upon as a better nickname than New Guy, for a pilot who doesn't look old enough to start shaving yet. When he turns out to be very bloodthirsty when it comes to defending downed fellow pilots, Camparelli decides that his new callsign is "Straight Razor".
  • Karma Houdini: Grafton and Tiger Cole fly into restricted airspace and bomb a missile stockpile in downtown Hanoi, against standing orders. After a brief court martial, the judging officers learn that President Richard Nixon has just authorized Operation Linebacker II, the unlimited aerial bombing of all enemy targets in North Vietnam, they are told not to tell anybody and returned to duty to avoid the embarrassment of punishing a bomber crew for doing precisely that.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Air Force "Sandy" attack planes drop napalm on the North Vietnamese troops to keep them away from downed American aviators.
  • Made of Explodium: SAM City, justified for very obvious reasons.
  • Memetic Badass: Commander "Dooke" Camparelli, in-universe. Scary Black Man, Third Generation Mafia, he was built with the ship, he is a weapons system, and there was a cost overrun!
  • Mercy Kill: Tiger Cole.
    I'd do the same for you.
  • Murphy's Bullet: After Grafton and Morg use sophisticated electronic countermeasures to throw off radar-guided anti-aircraft guns, Morg is hit when a man on the ground blindly fires a single shot into the night sky at the sound of a jet.
  • New Meat: A new pilot has the bad timing to arrive very soon after the death of a beloved comrade. Everybody is too emotionally drained to come up with a nickname for him, they briefly consider calling him "New Guy", but decide on Razor instead. Later, two more new guys join the unit and, at the now-veteran Razor's suggestion, are named New One and New Two.
  • Nom de Guerre: Being a movie about combat pilots, there are quite a few. Cool Hand, Razor, The Boxman, Morg, Tiger, etc.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: The climax of the film. The North Vietnamese capitalize on this by using downed airmen as bait to draw the Air Force rescue aircraft in closer to their anti-aircraft guns. Leads to a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Percussive Maintenance: Tiger claims that when the targeting computer fails, that the manual says you should kick it to get it going again. Which he proceeds to do.
  • Playing Possum: An NVA trooper is shot dead by Commander Camparelli when he tries to search the cockpit of his crashed plane.
  • Porn Stache: It's a wonder that Wilem Dafoe's mustache didn't get a casting credit.
  • Race Lift: The Sino-American girl that Grafton has a romance with in the book is replaced by the blonde widow of a pilot unnamed in the film, who was a friend to the slain Morg and his family.
    • Also, Commander Camparelli presumed to be white in the novel, is a Big Scary Black Man in the movie. And he is Third Generation Mafia.
    • Camparelli even lampshades the Race Lift at one point while yelling at Razor.
      "You ever meet a black man with a name like that? Know what it means? It means that somewhere in my past, there was a wop in the woodpile!"
  • Rogue Agent: Grafton and Tiger Cole decide to do a two-man raid in downtown Hanoi. In the book, the target was the Communist Party Headquarters, in the movie, it was a stockpile of anti-aircraft missiles
  • Serious Business: "The Phantom Shitter", which turns out to be a Chekhov's Gunman
  • Shoo Out the Clowns: The movie becomes rather more serious after The Boxman dies.
  • Shout-Out: The film scheduled for movie night is They Shoot Horses, Don't They?, starring Jane Fonda.note 
  • Shown Their Work: Which is appropriate, as Stephen Coonts was an Intruder pilot during the Vietnam War.
    • Of note, the use of the High-Speed Missile Dodge, or rather, the unsuccessful use of it. One plane suffers a "near hit" from a missile, which detonates without quite hitting the plane. This is shown to be quite effective, as in Real Life, many anti-aircraft weapons are designed to detonate close to their target, peppering them with a very large volume of shrapnel.
    • The movie also shows how Navy pilots have administrative duties while not flying.
  • Sniping the Cockpit: How Morg dies, due to a guy on the ground firing a single shot blindly into the night sky.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Downtown, being sung by Grafton and Cole as SAM City is blown to pieces.
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines - The climax of the movie.
  • War Is Hell: Even for the flyboys.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Grafton and Tiger Cole are subjected to a Navy investigation of their unauthorized air raid on Hanoi, but decide to let it go when President Nixon gives a fortuitously-timed order for exactly that sort of attack to put pressure on the North Vietnamese.
  • Wild Weasel: In the latter half of the movie, much of the focus shifts to the Navy's Iron Hand missions, dealing with the NVA's Anti-Air systems, with tactics ranging from the use of sophisticated homing weapons like the Shrike anti-radiation missile, to daylight bombing raids against anti-aircraft guns. The climactic battle demonstrates the danger of this mission as two of the Intruders are shot down as they work to carve out a clear path for the Air Force's heavy bombers.
  • Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Not on purpose, anyhow. Although the one-plane air raid Grafton and Cole went on went dangerously close to averting this.