Picks and Pans Review: Tailspin: Behind the Korean Airliner Tragedy

updated 08/21/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/21/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

HBO (Sun., Aug. 20, 9 P.M. ET)

A

Six years ago the numbers 007 took on a new meaning. A major international crisis occurred when a Korean Air Lines 747 was shot down by a Russian fighter plane after the 747 plunged deep into Soviet airspace in the middle of the night. All 269 people on board Flight 007 from New York to Seoul were killed; 66 of them were Americans.

Nowhere in this 90-minute docudrama do we meet one passenger or even see the inside of the doomed aircraft. Instead we go behind the scenes to find out what might have happened in Washington as the drama unfolded. According to this gripping, fast-paced film, U.S. intelligence agencies knew within 36 hours that the shooting was an accident and not a coldblooded act of aggression. And yet, says the film, Washington power brokers blatantly manipulated the tragic truth to boost their own political agendas. Actual clips show George Shultz and President Reagan bashing the Soviets. Reagan, who was not awakened as the crisis developed during the night, later went on TV to angrily denounce the Russians for not valuing human life, claiming there was no way a pilot could mistake a jumbo jet for an enemy aircraft. But according to the film, Air Force intelligence knew it is almost impossible to identify planes at night.

The first-rate cast includes Michael Moriarty, Michael Murphy, Chris Saran-don and Harris Yulin, under the taut direction of David (Sword of Islam) Darlow. Brian (Little Mother) Phelan, who wrote the script, says he based it on 150 hours of interviews with senior intelligence officers in the U.S., South Korea, Canada, the United Kingdom, the U.S.S.R. and Japan. The last scenes are set in Seoul, where Darlow and producer John Smithson offer their explanation as to why the Korean jet strayed off course. Mozart's Requiem is played throughout, infusing this real-life tragedy with a sense of haunting melancholy.

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