FLIGHT (2012)

 Greetings again from the darkness. What is a hero? There have certainly been no shortage of super hero movies these past few years, but those are mostly comic book characters brought to life through the magic of Hollywood. Can a heroic act turn a flawed man into a hero? Should his flaws change how we treat him after the heroic act? All these are questions raised by the script from John Gatins. The easiest answer of all? If you are a movie producer looking to cast a flawed hero … the obvious choice is Denzel Washington.

Director Robert Zemeckis returns to live-action after more than a decade of experimenting with animation. Of course, Zemekis is firmly entrenched in Hollywood lore thanks to his Back to the Future trilogy, as well as Forrest Gump (for which he won an Oscar). This is quite dark material for Zemeckis and he handles it very well. The trailer tells us what we need to know about the premise. Denzel plays a pilot who, under extreme circumstances, “inverts” the commercial jet he is flying so it can be crash-landed in an open field. Yes, invert means to fly the plane upside down. If you are queasy about flying, this is one to avoid. And don’t count on this being the in-flight movie on your next business trip.

The first 30 minutes of this movie are as strong as any seen on screen this year. We quickly get a sense of Whip Whitaker the flawed man, and then we see the remarkable Captain Whip Whitaker and his actions during an incredibly well filmed crash sequence. Unfortunately, I found the second half of the film played like a heavy-handed advertisement for AA (not American Airlines). Whitaker is exposed for his absurdly high blood alcohol level and existence of cocaine … so clearly presented in the film’s opening. Over the years, many films have tackled addiction: Leaving Las Vegas, Clean and Sober, When a Man Loves a Woman. Rarely have we seen the expert talent of deception and lying that Capt Whitaker displays.

There is little doubt that Denzel’s performance will warrant Oscar consideration … and it should. The film depends on an actor skilled enough to reach the depths necessary for us to believe this guy, despite his cocky pilot strut and unmatched flying skills, is little more than a mentally weak addict.  This is no Sully.  In fact, Denzel’s chubby, bloated Whitaker is impossible to like or respect as a man.

 There are a couple of outstanding supporting performances here: John Goodman as Harling Mays, a colorful and energetic, free-wheeling dealer who works miracles with Whitaker when he appears too gone to function; and Kelly Reilly (Mary Watson from the “Sherlock Holmes” movies) as fellow addict Nicole, who connects with Whip and tries to help him. We also get solid work from Don Cheedle, Brian Geraghty, Tamara Tunie, Peter Geraty and Melissa Leo. There is also an odd scene featuring James Badge Dale as a cancer patient/philosopher.

The Alan Silvestri score is effective, as is the soundtrack featuring the somewhat obvious songs from Joe Cocker, The Rolling Stones and Cowboy Junkies. The issues with the script are minor, though the inconsistencies with Whitaker’s “limp” were bothersome.  This is one to recommend in spite of the Bruce Greenwood factor. Every frequent movie goer has their acting nemesis and Greenwood’s presence usually indicates a disappointing movie for me … not the case here.

**Note: couldn’t help but chuckle at one of the VHS tapes stacked by Whitaker’s TV … Top Gun

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you can handle a ferociously realistic plane crash sequence OR you want to see one of Denzel Washington’s best ever performances

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: 2 hours of severe alcoholism is not the kind of entertainment you desire OR your fear of flying needs no ammunition

watch the trailer:


6 Responses to FLIGHT (2012)

  1. CMrok93 says:

    Definitely a bit torn about this one, it boils down to the kind of addiction movie we’ve seen many times before but it’s done so well that it’s starts to not have you care about it as much. Washington’s performance is what makes this flick really tick altogether and definitely deserves a nomination. Nice review David.

    • Absolutely agree about the addiction portion. I found the crash sequence and Washington’s performance made it worth seeing. Personally I would have rather seen more of Melissa Leo’s investigation than watch Denzel drink another beer. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Bruce says:

    If it has movie stars, and looks like a movie, and costs like a move, and is showing at the movie theatre, it must be a movie? Fooled again. Flight is a made for TV afternoon offering for “women’s’ television”, AKA the Lifetime channel, which a friend of mine once dubbed “the murder channel”.

    I don’t like nudity in a movie unless it’s gratuitous, and I am happy to report one of the 2 redeeming elements to Flight is a terrific gratuitous nude scene that opens the film. It’s so good that I had no idea until halfway though the film who the woman was. If there was any dialog in the scene, I missed it, and maybe that would have helped follow the woman’s role in the plot.

    Right after the skin flick comes the crash and it is just a great piece of action film making. So, take my advice; after the plane crashes, walk out to the theater manager and tell him you are sick and have to leave and ask for a pass to another movie at a later date. You will regret it if you stay for the next 2 hours.

    The director, Zemekis, apparently made this film so the can stay on the A List and be invited to all the left leaning hoi polloi parties in Hollywood. Let’s count the liberal shibboleths: (1) A white woman who is terrorized by white men (one who gives her drugs, one who tries to get her to do porn, and one who is the landlord of her sleazy dump of an apartment and offers to let her work off the past due rent by showering with him) is rescued from these slugs by a black man. This is a popular theme on Lifetime or at least it was when I had cable 9 years ago. (2) There is an overt in your face anti religious symbol, that being the airplane wing shearing off the top of a church steeple before it crashes. (3) The only ‘religious people’ who have speaking roles come across as little more than total freakin’ idiots, even though one of them, the co pilot who is almost killed, considers the crash an act of God and will not rat out the captain, who by the way is Denzel. (4) Denzel’s grandfather was a Tuskegee airman. (5) The root of all evil, the drug dealer with no conscience, is portrayed as a heckuva nice jolly guy who just happens to ruin lives. Tra la la.

    A peculiarity of the film is that the lead female role (aside from the nudist) and who has a great bit of screen time, has zip to do with the plot development. Every frame of her participation could have been left on the cutting room floor and you’d end up with exactly the same film. Ditto for Denzel’s ex wife and son.

    The “good” in the film, aside from what has been mentioned, is that Denzel is good, although there is hardly any “growth” to his character, so he more or less plays the same scene a dozen times.

    Oh, by the way, did you know that flight attendants and co pilots look the other way when the pilot shows up drunk as a skunk and high on coke?

    So, I give it a “yes” if you will go for the first 30 minutes.

  3. Girlbird says:

    Bruce is making good practice at being Rex Reed. His review isn’t quite fair.

    I’d say that it is a really good film, not too formulaic, at times unpredictable, and very mature about the subject matter. That’s refreshing. It’s a great cast, a great director, and a good story.

    The story falls apart at some point, and we can debate where it does. I think the end is not at all believable, but it would have been if they’d cut the repetitive middle where we see him fail his sobriety over and over. How about taking twenty minutes from that and granting twenty minutes of story and screen time to delve into his trip to jail and success at sobriety, with focus on the father/son relationship? Or better yet, him being release from jail and trying to stay sober with his freedom again. If it’s a story about being free–he says that, and I believe him–then show it. If this film morphed into a story of redemption, but without the predictable Hollywood shorthand, then we would have had an Oscar movie.

    Days of Wine and Roses is the penultimate AA movie, and it worked and Lemmon won an Osacr because it showed in detail the struggle back from addiction.

    This glosses over it, and that’s where it fails. But until it fails, it’s a riveting good big screen melodrama, not an after school special, not a tv movie. A really mature serious film.

  4. Girlbird says:

    One more thing. What a waste of Melissa Leo! Did she end up on the cutting room floor? I’d rather have seen her cast as his AA sponsor. Now that’s a movie.

    • Still like watching Days of Wine and Roses … very well done and great Lemmon performance. As for Flight, I think the crash sequence is one of my favorite of the year, and though I am not a big Denzel fan, I enjoyed his performance. Not a perfect move (as you pointed out), but it has enough unique features that it becomes worth watching. Agree with you that with just a few tweaks, it coulda been something … it coulda been a contender.

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