Review: Netflix doc ‘Downfall: The Case Against Boeing’ explores cost of greed over safety

The view over the shoulders of pilots seated at the controls of a darkened airliner cockpit
An image from the 2022 documentary “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing.”
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Few instances of corporate malfeasance are as infuriating as the steep decline of once-innovative aviation giant Boeing, a case study in corrosive greed that wouldn’t be so worthy of attention if it hadn’t tragically resulted in hundreds of unnecessary deaths.

The Lion Air Flight 610 crash in Indonesia in 2018, followed five months later, shockingly, by Ethiopian Airlines’ Flight 302, exposed not only design flaws in Boeing’s highly touted 737 Max planes, but also a company culture of profit and deception over safety. The unraveling of it all, fueled by gobsmacked pilots, grieving families, diligent journalism and an investigating Congress in rare bipartisan form, is what makes Rory Kennedy’s documentary “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing” a grim, enraging narrative.

“Downfall” isn’t Kennedy at her most artful — there’s a certain sameness to the style of these types of docs now. But as one of the stronger storytellers in the nonfiction world (see her brilliant “Last Days in Vietnam”), she does weave facts, emotions and historical context with ringing clarity and at the pace of a thriller. It may be a difficult watch for nervous fliers, but her plainspoken interviewees (from ex-Boeing engineers to outraged pilots including disaster-averting hero Sully Sullenberger) and effective use of explanatory computer generated imagery make clear the problems with Boeing’s tacked-on maneuvering software, and why their knee-jerk blaming of the deceased pilots was disgusting. The rest of the story is just as terrible.


There are plenty of disturbing revelations, but it’s the totality of Boeing’s self-sabotaging, money-grubbing descent — starting with a post-merger change in leadership in the 1990s — that brings home how irresponsible corporate stewardship is a global harm worth correcting. In its gold-standard heyday of engineering excellence, Boeing introduced the commercial jet that made air travel affordable for millions of people. Today, it’s a poster child for putting the bottom line above the safety of those millions. Maybe “Downfall: The Case Against Boeing” will become a consequential exhibit in the ongoing public trial we should all be prosecuting against Wall Street’s hold over our lives.

'Downfall: The Case Against Boeing'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

Playing: On Netflix starting Feb. 18