Sunday, November 4, 2012

Even Denzel Isn't Able to Steer Zemeckis' Latest to Its Full Potential: Our Review of "Flight" (2012)

Directed By: Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump

Starring: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle

Rating: R for drug & alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence

Run Time: 2 hours, 18 minutes

Synopsis: Whip Whitaker (Washington) is a skilled and veteran airline pilot who, when a mechanical malfunction causes his passenger jet to go into an unstoppable dive, manages to safely and improbably crash land the plane saving most on board. Despite his heroic effort he becomes the target of an investigation when it comes to light that he was both drunk and high on cocaine the day of his miracle landing.


Andrew: Hello readers! Last night Sarah and I went to the theatre to catch the new Denzel Washington (American Gangster) drama Flight, directed by Robert Zemeckis in his return to live-action movies (his last 3 films all being motion-capture and his last live-action film being 2000’s Cast Away). Denzel plays an experience airline captain named Whip Whitaker who safely lands his passenger jet after an equipment malfunction, but ends up being investigated because his toxicology report taken after the crash shows he was drunk and high on cocaine while piloting the jet.

Sarah, this is a film whose trailer we’ve been seeing for many months now. It isn’t exactly one we were jumping at the bit to see, but every single time we saw the trailer we were intrigued by the airplane crash sequence that seems to be the focal point of the film.

So I want to start things in the review a little differently and ask a specific question: Now that we’ve seen Flight, what did you think of the opening plane crash scene?

Sarah: It was incredibly realistic. It was terrifying. You know, once again like Argo, we knew certain aspects of the plot; we knew going in that Whip is able to successfully land the plane with minimal casualties. But the crash is SO intense and SO terrifying that I found myself being really shaken up at the end of the scene. I almost couldn’t help tear up during the scene because of how scary it was.

It totally taps into a very primal fear that people have. You know, we ARE land-dwellers after all. So it takes you back to a natural fear, not a horror movie fear, but a legitimate fear of flying. So if you have trouble flying in a plane or with heights, do not see this movie. It’ll completely scare the crap out of you. What did you think?

A: I agree with you that it is one of the most intense things I’ve seen on the big-screen in quite some while. You’re correct that it’s incredibly realistic. And it’s a relatively extended scene, unlike in Cast Away where its plane crash scene was quick and over with like that. This one’s pretty drawn out.

I was very fascinated by it because you get an idea of how good a pilot Whip really is, and al the technical jargon and the mechanics of the plane and flight…they clearly had a lot of research and consultation into how that all works. So I was intrigued with that, but at the same time I was terrified. Because even when just taking off, their plane is taking off right into a terrible storm, and from all the flying we’ve both done we know how freaky that can be. Primal fear was the best way to put it, in that we’ve been there before and we know what that feeling is like. Zemeckis did a great job putting that on-screen.

So this is a great way to start the movie off, but this leads me to my next question. The movie literally starts off with a bang, but what did you think of the rest of the film? Because it’s 2 hours and 20 minutes long and the plane crash sequence probably takes up the first 20 or 30 minutes of it…

S: From the beginning of the movie to when Whip wakes up in the hospital is about 30 minutes. That was thrilling. But then I found that the movie just stops. They had built up this intensity that completely goes away in the rest of the movie.

When we meet Whip we’re immediately shown that he’s quite the alcoholic and he likes his cocaine, and like most high-functioning alcoholics he’s able to pass off sobriety. So we get that he’s a dangerous man and probably shouldn’t be flying.

So we get that done and out of the way, and like you said the film starts off with a bang, it’s very in your face. But then it becomes a slow character drama and it’s like, “Yes, we KNOW he’s an alcoholic. Yes, we KNOW he likes his drugs. Can we move the story along any faster?”

I felt like they dragged out the parts that didn’t need to be so long and chopped down parts that should have been extended.

A: Can you give me an example of those?

S: The biggest one I thought was a time jump from when Whip stays with his friend and pilot union rep, Charlie, played by Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek), in order to try and stay sober before his investigation hearing.

A: They skip over nine whole days, right?

S: They skip over nine whole days, when before we see what seems like a couple of weeks of his trying to heal, trying to face his demons a bit on his own or with a lady friend he meets in the hospital named Nicole (Kelly Reilly, Sherlock Holmes). I felt like those nine days they skipped over could have been an interesting look in seeing how Whip did living with Charlie and his family and how they could have helped him.

I don’t know…I just felt like not a lot of attention was paid to that. Plus they lingered on Whip’s relationship with Nicole and they pound it into our heads that Whip’s an alcoholic and he’s lying to everybody that he can control it…I don’t know.

A: I think what you’re trying to say is that the flow of the film after the plane crash was inconsistent.

S: Oh! And another part they sort of skip over after making a point of making is when Whip is trying to find out what his fellow crew members that survived are saying to the investigators about him. The movie makes a big deal over how he sort of asks his crew members to lie for him and then nothing really comes of it. They completely gloss over it. I understand why they put those pieces in, because he’s scared and doesn’t want to go to prison. But then they don’t really do anything with it.

A: I understand where you’re coming from, and I’m not trying to defend the movie too much here but it’s how I see the film, but Flight is really a deep character study of Whip and his addiction problems. And for the most part they do a great job of only presenting you with everything from his angle.

So when he’s talking to his stewardess or co-pilot and get a feel for what they’re going to say or what they already said to the investigators, it’s almost like it doesn’t matter what the outcome of that is because he’s not going to find out until the hearing.

I don’t’ know if you noticed, but the characters in the film – Whip, Charlie, Whip’s lawyer Hugh, played by Don Cheadle (Iron Man 2) – they all talk about the investigation but you never see investigators’ side. You never see the actual investigation. You only ever see from Whip’s perspective of what he’s being told about the investigation.

So what you just mentioned doesn’t really bother me too much because it’s more about Whip asking them to lie. He’s not a good guy. He’s an antihero.

S: Yes, even though he’s a hero for landing the plane and saving 96 of the 102 people on board.

A: Yes, he’s heroic in that instance, but he’s still an antihero in the film. (Side note: did you notice how everyone in the movie always said there were “102 souls” on-board? Always souls, never “people.” I wonder why that is, but I digress.)

MY problem with the movie also stems from the fact that we’re almost always presented with things from Whip’s perspective. If Zemeckis and screenwriter John Gatins wanted to present things only from Whip’s perspective, then I think they made a mistake in introducing Nicole at the very beginning.

My problem with introducing Nicole is that they bring her in almost right from the beginning, you see her problems and her addiction to heroin, then she crosses paths with Whip and they try to support each other, then she isn’t in the second half of the movie at all.

I’m fine with what her role is where she’s supposed to be someone Whip can connect with, be someone who can either enable him or hopefully help him and then she leaves so that Whip has to face another hurdle of sorts. But the problem is we get so invested in her, where it looks like she’s the second main character, that when she leaves I was left wondering why we were lead to care SO MUCH about her character. It made the rest of the film very uneven for me.

S: I just think they missed the mark with this movie. The first scene? It gave the rest of the film so much promise. Denzel does a great job, too!

A: Denzel does a fantastic job. My problem with this movie is, and we mentioned this in our preview a bit, but this was a total Oscar bait film.

S: For Denzel, not for the movie as a whole.

A: No, see I think the whole movie was Oscar bait. It’s a movie about redemption, it’s a spotlight movie for Denzel, it’s Zemeckis’ return to live-action…you know he won an Oscar for Forrest Gump, he got nominated for Cast Away so he certainly has the Oscar cred going already. These are the kinds of movies he used to be known for.

But my problem with Flight, and I’ve read this term lately on the blogosphere, but there were so many “Oscar clips” in this film. You know, where it’s clear that THIS is the scene that they’re going to send in to voters for award consideration. There are a lot of scenes like that, which gets redundant and heavy-handed.

Denzel’s best scenes are the subtle ones where I didn’t FEEL like he’s going for the Oscar.

S: And there were a few scenes in the movie where I definitely got that feeling, like his final monologue.

A: Yes. But I liked scenes like the crash scene when he tells his flight attendant to say out loud that she loves her son so it gets recorded on the black box in case they do die. He’s so calm, cool and collected. Denzel pulls that off masterfully. Stuff like that he’s phenomenal with.

But then there are the monologues and melodramatic stuff…I don’t know. I think he’ll certainly get nominated for an Oscar. I don’t think he’ll win, and you know what? I’m not a fan of how the Best Actor Oscar race is shaping up this year, but that’s beside the point.

I liked the movie as a whole. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. I was disappointed in it.

S: Yes, disappointment is how I felt about Flight. It starts off SO GOOD and then it crashes and burns.

A: It starts off brilliantly! I loved the first scene, which isn’t the plane crash, but it’s Whip waking up in his hotel…

S: With a naked woman…

A: He finishes off the dregs of an old beer from the night before, his phone rings and it’s his ex-wife nagging him about tuition money for their son’s private school, he does a line of coke…it’s so anti-Denzel, but then BAM, they cut to him leaving his room looking all dapper in his uniform and shades?

S: It’s a great character introduction, it really is.

A: Then there’s the plane crash, which was also great, but the rest of the movie left something to be desired for both of us it seems.

S: The rest of the movie is definitely not as exciting as the trailer makes it out to be.

A: It’s way too long. Lots of stuff that could’ve been cut out.

S: It should have been done differently. Disappointment is definitely the final word for us on this movie. I personally didn’t find it Oscar-worthy as a whole.

A: I think it’s Oscar-worthy…

S: I think Denzel’s performance is, but I don’t think the movie as a whole is.

A: I don’t think it’s a Best Picture nominee, but I can see how some other critics might.

Ok, real quick, some quick hits I wanted to mention. The special effects for the plane crash are phenomenal. Special effects are Zemeckis’ forte, what with him being the director of the Back to the Future films, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Forrest Gump

The music choices were so heavy-handed and clich√©, it drove me nuts. Like when Nicole shoots up heroin they play “Under The Bridge” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, or when John Goodman’s drug dealer shows up for the first time they play “Sympathy for the Devil” by The Rolling Stones. It’s just too on the nose for my taste.

S: Or like when they use “With a Little Help from My Friends” when Whip does some coke in a pivotal scene?

A: Yes! Too on the nose. Great songs, but I hated how Zemeckis chose so many popular songs that fit the scene too well.

And finally the supporting cast was pretty good. I liked John Goodman (Argo) as Whip’s drug dealer, Harling. He was funny and I wish he was in the movie more, but he’s only in it for three scenes.

S: He was hilarious. Along with his scenes in Argo he’s been stealing scenes left and right lately. Love him.

A: And we can’t forget to mention something we laughed at – the opening scene where Whip wakes up with a naked woman in bed with him?

S: That was Ruxin’s wife from The League! That was totally Sophia!

A: Yeah! For the record, her actual name is Nadine Velazquez, not just “Ruxin’s wife,” but yes, she’s like…COMPLETELY nude…

S: FULL frontal nudity. You see literally every inch of her!

A: And that was part of why I loved the first part of the film was because that crazy amount of nudity and drug usage and swearing by Denzel was totally NOT what I was expecting.

S: All I wanted to do was shout out, “Nice job, Ruxin!”

A: Because they always joke about how hot she in on the show and we finally get to see what they mean because she’s completely in her birthday suit.

S: They went pretty hardcore with the start of the movie.

A: Yeah, and that’s another reason the rest of the film was such a let-down.

Okay, final thoughts on Flight?

S: Disappointed. If you decide to see it in theatres, only stay until the crash ends and then you can leave. It’s very predictable as a whole even with Denzel’s performance. Step it up a bit Hollywood, you’re disappointing me lately.

FINAL VERDICT: Netflix it!

(Individual Scores - S: 3/5  A: 3.5/5)

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  1. Good review. Definitely a perfect showcase for Denzel and his talents as an actor, even though I think the story falls by the waste-side sooner and sooner by the end. Still, great movie to watch and be interested by.

    1. Thanks Dan! Denzel's certainly fantastic in it, they give him a wide range of emotions to play but the storyline does ultimately fail him. Too bad, really.

  2. Wow, you brought up some valid flaws that I didn't even think about. Great discussion. I liked the film a lot, mostly because Denzel's just so damn good.

    1. Thanks Squasher! Which flaws did we point out to you?

    2. Mainly:
      - Skipping over the 9 days with Charlie.
      - Not following up with the crew members and the effects of them lying for him.
      - The "on-the-nose" music, which was obvious but I guess I wasn't paying attention, lol.

  3. Awesome review! I didn't see the movie but I plan to - I really like movies about addictions and it sounds like Denzel is really amazing in this.

    1. If you like that kind of movie then this is right up your alley. It's certainly an interesting character study, it just didn't do it for us.

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