Friday, December 7, 2012

Flight - Theatrical Review

Release Date: November 2, 2012

'Flight' is a fascinating examintion on how we view and judge our public heroes.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block in Orange 
Time: 9:00 am November 11, 2012   
Projector Type: Digital 2D
Film Rating: R  
Film Runtime: 2 hr 18 min
Studio: Paramount

Loves: Denzel Washington, miracle stories   
Likes: Robert Zemeckis, John Goodman, Kelly Reilly   
Neutral: Unnecessary side stories 
Hates: That it took this long for Zemeckis to make another non-animated film.   
The last film with actors Zemeckis made was: "Cast Away" in 2000.

After a miraculous landing of a doomed airliner, Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is put under the magnifying glass as he becomes an instant media hero for saving the lives of over one hundred passengers.Whip's toxicology report comes into question soon after however when it is suspected that there was fowl play involved with the plane's malfunctions that led to the deaths of three passengers and two crew members. With the help of a reluctant lawyer (Don Cheadle), Whip must finally face his many demons or be sent to jail for his misdeeds.

"Flight" isn't the movie you are likely expecting, but in this case that is a good thing. Director Robert Zemeckis (with his first live-action theatrical release since 2000's "Cast Away") has given us a film that looks into our fascination with heroes and dissects what exactly we look for and need in our heroes. It asks hard questions such as, "Should we, or can we separate the man from his accomplishments?" and "Can we look past a person's many flaws simply because of a single act that saved lives?". Those questions and many more posed by the film are not easy to answer and that is what makes "Flight" take off the way it does, by putting us the viewer in the position where we must also judge whether or not Whip's actions were irredeemable despite the miracle he performed.

The film wastes no time putting Whip and his many indiscretions in the spotlight. The opening scene shows him in a hotel room that seems more like a parlor of vices than a place to reside for a night. He awakes hung over, takes a few more drinks, has his fully naked stewardess awaken from a drunken slumber next to him as he receives a call from his ex-wife pleading for help with their son that he quickly disregards and argues about and then before heading out for his flight in two hours takes a few lines of cocaine to wake himself up. If that isn't enough to push you over the edge, then the few shots of Vodka he throws into his orange juice while flying the actual plane will surely send you off the deep end.

You will likely go through a range of emotions as Whip does everything in his power to let us and everyone he knows down. He is a drunk, a drug addict, a liar and a deadbeat dad. Worst of all is that hundreds of lives a day are placed in his care and he never once thinks about all the people he puts at risk with his addictions and selfish acts. Like most things in life have a tendency to do, his world is turned upside down (literally) when his latest flight experiences an unknown malfunction that makes the plane uncontrollable. It pivots and goes into an uncontrolled nose dive from which no person on the planet could ever recover from. However, Whip performs one of the most audacious stunts imaginable and saves the plane and most of the passengers. The details of how he landed the flight are nearly inconsequential compared to the fact that he did it while loaded on just about every drug imaginable.

The brilliance of this set up and its eventual payoff is how from minute one we are trained to hate Whip. Even after the plane crash he still continues down a path of self destruction and never misses an opportunity to spit in the faces of anyone and everyone trying their hardest to help the man. Each time he opens a bottle of liquor just after he was told implicitly by his friend, advisor and union rep Charlie (Bruce Greenwood) for his own sake to stop, we shake our heads in disappointment. As he continues down this self destructive path that disappointment soon turns into anger, then to apathy which quickly turns into indifference and by the are simply done with him. You want nothing more to do with the man because just like everyone else in his life, you have given him numerous opportunities to shape up and all he ever does is piss all over every single sacrifice made by friends and co-workers to help him.

So how exactly is it a good thing to inspire the audience to hate the main character this conclusively? It's simple really, by putting the audience in the same shoes as the films many characters and the overly judgemental public in general, it places us in the unusual position of judging him as well instead of just remaining an impartial bystander. It makes you ask yourself, "If I were on a plane that went down and I were saved solely by the pilot's uncanny ability to think outside the box and it was later revealed he was loaded up on cocaine and alcohol at the time, would I want him to answer for his crimes regardless if the plane's malfunction wasn't his fault?". It's an even more difficult question to answer when you throw in the complication of five people dying in the crash. Could they have been saved as well if he had a clearer head at the time? What if one of those five dead were you or a loved one?

By giving the audience little to no room to pity him, they are placed in the precarious position of having to come to their own conclusions outside of the resolution found in the films final moments. It is a rare thing to see your leading man shown with next to no redeeming values beyond his miracle landing that no one else could have ever pulled off, place him upon a pedestal and have your audience simply hate on him without abandon. There comes a point near the end where even his closet friends and colleagues are ready to give up on him and you will likely feel the same, but Zemeckis pulls it off and makes it work.

This is of course is in no small part due to Denzel Washington's selfless performance. There are few actors working today who can make you sympathize and loathe a character at the same time like Denzel Washington. His portrayal of a broken man who knows he should pay for his abuse of the trust invested in him but whom is simply too scared to face those he let down should be heartbreaking, but his commitment to making Whip into this degenerate lowlife is so effective that you can't help but hate him for making you want to care about him. This is probably one of the most complex characters he has ever tackled and he absolutely nails it as expected.

Not everything works as well as it should though with the number one elephant in the room being the woman Whip meets in the hospital, Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Now, this may sound a little harsh at first (especially considering how well Reilly does in the part) but Nicole should not have been in this movie. Her presence serves zero purpose in the grand scheme of things. She is introduced early on in the film and it is slightly perplexing at first why we are seeing so much of this character that has no relation to Whip at all. While the ultimate goal is to have these two drug dependent individuals come together and begin to rely on one another for support, it never takes shape the way it should have.
In the end the character of Nicole is nothing more than another tool to show us how Whip just doesn't give a dam who he hurts. As a matter of fact, if all Nicole's scenes were lifted from the film it would have little to no impact on anything that transpires in Whip's life, she has no interactions with anyone but him and has zero influence on him and as a result has no effect on the outcome of Whip's story. For a film well over two hours in length, this is a side story that could have and should have been left out all together.

The character of Nicole does shine a light on the only other possible failure of the film though, which is the extent it goes to make you dislike Whip. With the aforementioned drug and alcohol abuse, fatherly issues and general lack of tact, we already have plenty of reasons to hate the guy and get fed up with him, however with the introduction of the Nicole character and his need to indirectly destroy all her efforts at leading a clean life, it starts to become a little much. This all could have been alleviated by either excising Nicole out of the film entirely or by simply giving her some reason to be there as emotional support of some kind. It threatens to take your already teetering opinion of Whip to the point of no return which is just unnecessary overkill. This may seem like a minor nitpick but considering how much screen time Nicole eats up, it really is distracting and the only real negative in an otherwise solid and powerful film.

Nitpicks aside, "Flight" delivers the most compelling character drama of the year hands down. The way it lulls you into the same mindset as the characters around Whip is an ingeniously fascinating method in which to force us to examine how we view our heroes and how we judge them not on their actions, but by who they are. It is a film filled with hard questions that have no clear cut easy answers. It will challenge your principles and values and it does it through yet another powerhouse performance by Denzel Washington that will either leave you conflicted or absolute in your convictions towards selfish substance reliant individuals who put others at risk with little regard to their safety. It has been over a decade since Robert Zemeckis last made a live action film and hopefully it won't take that long until he decides to get behind the camera again.





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