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February 19, 2013

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On DVD/Blu-ray – Review: Flight (2012)

by NIR SHALEV

Flight (2012)

Director Robert Zemeckis had lost his mind several years back when he announced he would never work as a live-action filmmaker, ever again. He made that announcement after he’d directed The Polar Express (2004), Beowulf (2007), and A Christmas Carol (2009). I like The Polar Express; I like Beowulf for its cheeky humor; special effects aside, A Christmas Carol is a lousy film. I was upset that he said what he said because he’s responsible for the wonderful Back to the Future trilogy (1985-1990), the brilliant Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), and the masterpiece Forrest Gump (1994).

So when I heard he was making a live-action film that would star Denzel Washington and be adult oriented, I was like a little kid during Christmas morning.

Flight stars Washington as Whip Whitaker, an excellent airline pilot who’s been addicted to alcohol and drugs most of his life. Regarding the drinking: he’s not the classic Golden Days of Hollywood kind of drunk. He’s the far more realistic kind of drunk that doesn’t believe that he has a drinking problem. And as for the drugs: anything goes.

One day, after a long night of binge drinking and a cocaine party, Whip flies a commercial plane while relatively intoxicated. After some terrific turbulence and a malfunctioning airplane, the only outlook on the horizon is that of the plane plummeting to the ground at tremendous speed. But Whip, unbelievably manages to crash land the plane with almost no casualties. The sequence itself is the single greatest, most terrifying plane crash sequence that I’ve ever seen. Yes, it’s even better than the one in The Grey (2012).

Whip is considered a hero, as he should be but his blood alcohol level is no secret. Soon after, his career and life begin to spin out of control as he not only faces charges for flying a commercial aircraft while intoxicated but having endangered all of the passengers on board. He might be looking at some jail time and a very big fine.

Until the big third-act court hearing, we follow Whip on his daily adventures of drinking, not drinking, promising not to ever drink while getting so drunk that he passes out and crashes on a table in his own home, and we also meet the people who are trying to help him get alcohol addiction treatment and those who are trying to destroy him.

Flight is an excellent character study of a man who’s not beyond help, but he is so strong willed that it’s nearly impossible to make him stop drinking and doing drugs. His problem stems from his remarkably strong will power and at one point it seems that turning it around might just be impossible. Whip breaks many promises throughout the film and passed out, blind drunk on more than one occasion.

The supporting cast features Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman, James Badge Dale, and Melissa Leo and they all turn out excellent performances as well. But Denzel is in a class all of his own. He singlehandedly takes command of the film with his presence and convinces as a man who may or may not be beyond saving. And even though watching him get so drunk that he passes out, hitting his head on the toilet of a hotel room is a terrible sight, Denzel is the right man to do it. He is fearless in his performance and also takes the time to remind audiences that whip is still a human being. One can always tell that he hates having an alcohol and drug addiction but he’s too stubborn to do anything about it. And that’s acting entirely within character.

If I had any problems with Flight it’s that, while most films nowadays are too long and don’t know when to quit, Flight quits too early. It deserves and desperately needs an additional 20 minutes or so. We all know where it’s headed and we like what we’re seeing, because it’s unconventional but it makes real world sense, but then it just stops. Audiences require proper closure to film’s endings and Lincoln had that same problem. But luckily it’s a minor gripe and the film is still mostly excellent.

I love that Zemeckis broke his ridiculous promise and came back down to earth, because he’s delivered one of his finest films. I won’t say that Denzel’s never been better (Malcolm X and Training Day ring any bells?) but here he’s at the top of his game and definitely deserved that Academy Award nomination. If he wins it, and I doubt that he will (*cough* Lincoln), I’d honestly be very happy.

Zemeckis should also have been nominated for Best Director, over David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) and Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild). His direction is excellent and all of the actors give outstanding performances (because a director’s job is to direct the actors), and the film is mostly well paced.

But hey, you can’t win ‘em all. I’m just glad that the greatest win is that Zemeckis is back and in tip top condition.

The special features include Origins of Flight; The Making of Flight; Anatomy of a Plane Crash; and Q&A Highlights.

NEW RELEASE FOR FEBRUARY 19, 2012

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Feb 22 2013

    I agree with you on two points: Washington’s performance and the crash landing are terrific.

    Goodman’s character is a (bad) joke and the movie starts a downhill slide at his first appearance. It’s all downhill after the scene in the hospital stairwell (that I really liked). Most of the fault lies in the script; it’s laughable that FLIGHT was nominated for best original screenplay. The third act incorporates two of my least liked cliches in the “courtroom” scene and the big speech that follows. And last but not least, the song selection on the soundtrack was both painfully obvious and a tiresome exercise in another generation’s pop music nostalgia.

  2. Feb 22 2013

    @Helen, the music didn’t bother me all that much because I saw it as an ironic take on the character of Whip: the music represents who Whip thinks he but the irony is that we know who he really is. But I could be wrong and maybe I’m looking too much into it.

    Also, you say that the film goes downhill after the hospital scene. Seeing that the film is 2 hours and 20 minutes long, that means that it’s still part of the first act. I’m guessing that you disliked most of the film, then.

    Goodman’s character didn’t have to a joke, which I also agree that he was, but hey… can’t win ’em all. Flight is a film that I enjoyed on a conceptual and acting basis only; I tried not to look deep into it because there really isn’t much. But I still find that it’s a damn good film.

    Lastly, the third act, which I mentioned in my review, is approximately 10 minutes long, and that’s a shame. It’s so short that it’s almost illegal. The film seriously needed to be 150 minutes long, at the least because it was focused entirely of the aspect of cause and consequence. They might as well have taken out the courtroom scene and and following scene as well and replaced them with title cards and sill images of “where these people are today”. lol

  3. Oct 10 2016

    I agree with you on Flight. It’s a good character study. I do disagree with you on Forrest Gump. I think it’s terrible.

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