On October 29th, 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java sea, killing all 187 passengers and crew. It was the first accident to involve the Boeing 737 Max series of aircraft and it was also one of the first major air disasters after a period of relative safety in the sky.
A few months later, on March 10th, 2019, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed juts six minute after taking off. All 157 passengers and crew were killed. Like the Lion Air flight, the plane was a Boeing 737 Max.
At the time, Boeing insinuated that pilot error was to blame for both crashes but several investigations revealed that Boeing, which previously had a reputation for being one of the most safety-conscious companies around, cut corners when it came to the 737 Max series. In order to cut costs, not all safety protocols were followed. As a result, many concluded that the 737 Max jets should never have been approved for service to begin with. After a lengthy congressional hearing, Boeing CEO Dennis Mullenburg stepped down as a result of the scandal. Despite the fact that over 300 people had been killed in the two crashes and the fact that he left the company in shambles, Mullenburg left Boeing with a 62 million dollar severance.
That’s the story that’s told in the new Netflix documentary Downfall: The Case Against Boeing. It’s the type of thing that will and should leave you outraged. Due to the company’s negligence, over 300 people are dead and their families and friends have been left behind to mourn their loss. Boeing, at first, blamed the pilots, with the implication being that Indonesian and Ethiopian pilots just weren’t as good as their western counterparts. When the inevitable investigation was launched into just what exactly was going on over at Boeing, the company was less than forthcoming. There’s a lot to be angry about and the majority of the people who watch the documentary will be angry.
That said, the actual documentary itself is typical of a lot of the docs that turn up on the streaming services. It deals with an important subject but it does so in a rather superficial manner. It brings up the relevant issues but it doesn’t actually bother to dig too deeply into them. “Wow, this is really messed up, right?” the documentary seems to be saying and yes, it is messed up. But, at the same time, Downfall doesn’t really explore how it came to be so messed up or what can be done to make it less messed up. Instead, there’s a lot of archival news reports and enough footage of U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio grilling the Boeing executives that the documentary could pass for a campaign commercial if not for the fact that DeFazio is retiring at the end of his current term. Aesthetically, the documentary feels more like an extended episode of Dateline or 60 Minutes than an actual examination as to just what exactly was going on at Boeing. As far as documentaries directed by Kennedys are concerned, Rory Kennedy’s public service docs are certainly preferable to the anti-vax nonsense pushed out by RFK, Jr. (Rory, it should be noted, is pro-vaccination and has publicly condemned her brother’s anti-vax activities.) But still, it’s hard not to wish that Downfall had dug just a little deeper.