Downfall: The Case Against Boeing movie review (2022)

“Downfall” posits that a shareholder-first mentality crept into Boeing at the close of the century, after its acquisition of McDonnell Douglas in 1997. That merger brought the latter company’s cutthroat managers into conflict with the former’s safety-conscious engineers, who’d founded Boeing to design the world’s best airplanes. They took pride in this work and feared it would suffer as executives focused less on manufacturing and more on financial engineering. Their fears were well-founded, but heavy-handed corporate tactics by company leadership gradually robbed the engineers of their voice at the company. All the while, executives doubled down on cost-cutting measures and courted stock market investors, sacrificing safety in the name of profit. 

That approach continued after those tactics led to a tragedy, as Boeing sought to evade accountability while doing less than it could have to stop the next one. The company’s chilling apathy is framed as a matter of fact by the filmmakers, who know how to build a convincing case without losing their cool, but this is one element of “Downfall” that drives home how diseased Boeing has become.

“Downfall” calls upon various talking heads to tell this story, from journalists like the Wall Street Journal’s former aerospace reporter Andy Pasztor to politicians like Rep. Peter DeFazio, Chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, who led a congressional inquiry into the crashes. Especially critical are the voices of pilots like Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, who expresses shock and anger at Boeing’s decision not to tell pilots about MCAS.

The film also features interviewees whose stories were sidelined during coverage of the crashes, including families forced to grapple with unfathomable grief and former Boeing employees whose experiences provide insight into the company’s toxic culture. 

Prominently featured is Garima Sethi, the widow of Lion Air Captain Bhavye Suneja, who calmly recounts not only the ordeal of discovering her husband’s fate but the stench of xenophobia that permeated early reports on the first 737 crash. Meanwhile, Michael Stumo, whose 24-year-old daughter Samya Rose Stumo died in the Ethiopian Airlines crash, emerges through the narrative of the film as a forceful, agonized crusader for justice.

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