Flight Directed by: Robert Zemeckis Cast: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Melissa Leo Running Time: 2 hrs 18 mins Rating: R Release Date: November 2, 2012
PLOT: An airline pilot (Washington) who executes a life-saving crash landing has the story of his heroism scrutinized by his own personal flaws.
WHO'S IT FOR? If you love Denzel Washington, great original stories, or challenging mainstream dramas, don’t miss Flight.
EXPECTATIONS: This is Zemeckis' first live-action movie since 2000 - would Flight ring with the confidence of Cast Away, or turn out goofy like that odd motion-capture Beowulf movie he once did?
Denzel Washington as Whip Whitaker: This, this ladies and gentlemen of the internet, this right here is the type of movie that Washington is built for. Despite what many of his previous roles may promote to his expansive (and guaranteed) audience, the sure-fire actor doesn’t need to pound his chest, or shout like an idiot, or become the mentor figure to a younger white guy (Unstoppable, Training Day, Safe House) to show his natural power. He just needs a good story, and maybe a little control of his boiling emotions. Washington has a wonderful amount of both here with Flight a movie that gives him strong solo sequences to express great inner pain, and many layered moments of which Whip is only lying to himself. With Flight the talented has actor his own Lost Weekend, in a role that is just as emotionally effective as Ray Milland’s performance in that Oscar-winning Billy Wilder movie. Score: 9
Kelly Reilly as Nicole: A surprise to anyone who enters this film thinking that it is going to be strictly all about Washington, Reilly introduces a darker part of this story, presenting an uglier side of addiction that could easily become the tale of a reckless hotshot like Whip. Falling apart but not crumbling to sappy melodrama, Reilly's presentation of addiction on the turnaround is compelling, and a story that runs curiously parallel with Whip's decent into his own darkness. Score: 7
John Goodman as Harling Mays: As the man who is a constant supplier of vice to Whip, Goodman plays the movie's most challenging being. He moves in and out of the story, making the movie's perpetuating concept of wavering morality spin even faster; a person who defies the justice usually imposed on characters who are as reckless as him. Though this is no Argo for Goodman when it comes to solid supporting performances, the often amusing, apparently omnipotent actor is visibly giddy enough to play his own version of "The Dude" in The Big Lebowski here, offering the type of difficult judgment indicative of the entire Flight experience. Score: 7
Don Cheadle as Hugh Lang: As the lawyer hired to protect Whip, Cheadle's Lang presents the movie his own small question of integrity. This dilemma is answered soon by the character's complacency with simply doing his job, leaving Hugh as one of the less intriguing parts of the story. Still, Cheadle plays this law worm with a command to be taken seriously, both from his co-characters and his audience. Score: 6
Melissa Leo as Ellen Brock: She isn't in the film for a long time, but she is certainly memorable as the last person standing between Whip and his freedom. Working with such limited dialogue, Leo provides a very strong depiction of a person in charge, simply doing their job, but with a silent mission to find justice at whatever cost. With all of this being said, she is quite intimidating. Score: 7
TALKING: As the movie does acclimate viewers to the wilder side of being a pilot, it does provide a swift education with certain pilot terms while Washington is in the cockpit. The script is able to balance such distinctive jargon so that the experience in being in the cockpit during such an event is inclusive, without being dumbed down for outsiders. Keeping with Flight's proud game as a character-driven drama, the script features successfully thoughtful scenes in which characters contemplate the possibility of divine intervention amongst the crazy moments that test Whip (such as a great interaction between Whip and his co-pilot, played by Brian Geraghty). Score: 7
SIGHTS: The impressive visuals of Flight can be found with its special effects, and its cinematography. With the same tensity as the pivotal event in Cast Away, Flight succeeds in showing a phenomenally horrific plane crash, with nerve chills that don't subside until the movie is long over. Score: 8
SOUNDS: Possibly in hopes of connecting with an older demographic from an edgier era of rock, the Flight soundtrack uses 60s and 70s bands like The Rolling Stones to show some grit with its more reckless scenes scenes. Having even more effect on the experience of Flight is the mixing of the film's center plane crash, which successfully creates the intense moment of being trapped in an airliner that could be a death trap. In terms of score, the film only bungles its mixing of music and image when sappy, lonesome acoustic guitars are used to indicate the return of focus to Reilly's character. Score: 6
BEST SCENE: Of all moments of watching Washington, there is certainly something special about his "trial," in which we witness Whip struggle to maintain the one last lie he needs in order to attain a sense of false freedom.
ENDING: The concept of planting Whip's son back in his life in order to write an essay about the hero he doesn't know is a bit heavy handed, but it works here with this movie's question of identity. I imagine that in the hands of a different director, or a different actor, that such a moment would come off as less sincere.
REWATCHABILITY: Flight is a compelling first view, and one that makes for thoughtful material afterward - I would certainly watch this again to study Washington's performance.
Until we get the inevitably incredibly biopic on Lance Armstrong we will have Flight, a bold study of an anti-hero who lives in a world specifically gray like ours, unlike that of the one in the fun house mirror - the movies, in which a divine influence polices its code of movie morality, and those who drink and drive or openly use strong drugs are usually met with punishment, or are put onto a journey of redemption. In this regard alone, Flight can be a tough movie, especially with its refusal to pass judgment on characters that audience members might be so ready to condemn, or expect to see justice.
Instead of such movie morality intervening with the fate of these morally ambiguous individuals, they are left alone to gauge the value of their self-respect, and are developed strongly enough by this script to have their decisions become fitfully unpredictable. In a very compelling addition to this lack of judgment, one that gives this meaty drama even more weight, Flight preaches itself that there comes a point where speculation of higher being involvement must end, and that it is man himself who is accountable for his own mistakes. Working with such strong religious overtones in this story of an alcoholic who only has to face the judgment of himself, Flight becomes an engrossing, thematically sound story that beautifully balances it substantial concepts, with a focused original script from writer John Gatins.
Working with less flashier requirements in this movie, director Zemeckis experiences a sort of redemption as a filmmaker who can be forgiven for his past wreckage (the mostly failed business venture into the motion-capture animation industry, for example). With the pure character-driven storytelling of Flight, (giving a controlled Washington his best performance in a decade), Zemeckis returns to the strong natural power he has a storyteller with an eye for presenting fascinating individuals cut from raw ilk.
With this movie standing as Zemeckis' own version of Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors, Flight is no miracle, but is something more human than that - a beautifully challenging film, a bold feat not many others would be able to pull off.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10