Saturday, February 23, 2013

This “Flight” Is A Trip Worth Taking

Director Robert Zemeckis (Contact, Forrest Gump) has spent much of the last decade working on performance capture films like The Polar Express (2004), but he’s finally returned to live action with the excellent 2012 drama Flight. Denzel Washington plays Whip Whitaker, a veteran airline pilot who reports for work stoned & drunk after a night of partying. The flight encounters bad weather, and suffers from serious mechanical problems. Whip pulls off a once in a lifetime maneuver, and manages to crash land the plane with minimal loss of life. As the investigation into the incident moves forward, it becomes apparent that Whitaker wasn’t sober during the crisis. Does his heroic & amazing act excuse the fact that he’s essentially a functioning alcoholic? And who’s to blame for the tragedy?

As the media circles in, and the airline’s lawyers try to focus the blame elsewhere, Whitaker hides out and tries to make peace with his demons. But dealing with them doesn’t necessarily mean exorcising them, or even admitting they exist. He befriends Nicole, a recovering drug addict that he meets during his hospital stay. They begin a tentative relationship, but she sees that he’s deluding himself, and can’t admit to the depth of his addictions. Over the years, he’s lost his family and the respect of his colleagues because of his addictions. The only friend he has left enables his bad behavior, and is basically a fellow partier.

The excellent script by John Gatins (Real Steel, Dreamer: Inspired By a True Story) doesn’t pull any punches, or provide any easy answers. This is a dark, compelling drama that isn’t a “feel good” story. At first, Whip denies that he even has issues; he can still do his job, so what’s the problem? He even tries to convince other members of the crew to lie for him, as the date of the NTSB hearing on the incident gets closer. It’s only when he finally realizes just how far he is willing to go to avoid responsibility for his actions that Whip finally has a moment of clarity. But even then it’s only the beginning of a long road to recovery. There isn't a happy ending here; but there is a realistic one, with a touch of hope for the future.

Zemeckis and his crew do an amazing job with the look of the film. The crash sequence is amazing and utterly convincing. But the movie really shines in smaller moments, such as a hospital scene between Whip, Nicole and another patient; it’s a conversation about life & death in a stairwell while they’re all sneaking a cigarette. It’s one of the best moments in the film. The entire cast is superb; Washington is excellent as Whitaker, a person who’s in a downward spiral and can’t seem to pull out of it. But he also lets us see the charm & charisma that still exists within this man. There’s also stellar work from Kelly Reilly as Nicole, Don Cheadle (Crash), Bruce Greenwood (Double Jeopardy) and Goodman (Argo) as Whip’s buddy & dealer.

This is Zemeckis’ best film since Cast Away (2000), and its Oscar nominations (Best Actor for Washington, Best Original Screenplay for Gatins) are well deserved. This is an intimate, powerful drama that deserved more success at the box office than it enjoyed during its initial release. Hopefully, it will gain more viewers & fans now that it’s available on video and for digital download & streaming. The Blu-Ray edition features some interesting featurettes about the genesis of the screenplay & the filming of the movie. Flight is a powerful story about one man’s journey back from the depths of his own despair; it’s one of 2012’s best films.

Here’s a link to the trailer for the film:

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