November 11, 2012

Movie Review: Flight (2012)

It's been twelve years since Robert Zemeckis directed a love action movie. In between 2000's Castaway and 2012's Flight, the Oscar-winning filmmaker has spent much time dabbling in motion capture animation, to varying degrees of success. In any case, he has made his live action return with a fine, if melodramatic, character study with one of the best in the game in the lead. It is true that Zemeckis and Denzel Washington make a potent duo, it is too bad the film wasn't just a little bit better.

Flight is a character study, it looks at an alcoholic pilot who controls the skies, but when dirt-bound is unable to control himself. It is a tale that is wound up quick and then takes its time to unspool, allowing its central character to go further down the spiral. You know, it is a good movie about an interesting character. The problem is that I feel I have seen it before, I have seen it better, and I have seen it tighter.

Denzel stars as Whip Whitaker, a passenger plane pilot. One fateful flight, following a night of drinking, cocaine, and the bedding of a young flight attendant (Nadine Velasquez), his plane heads through some rough turbulence before a malfunction puts them in a dive. In order to regain control of the plane, he rolls it over before coming on for a crash landing.

Much of this you already know from the trailer. In the film proper, it is downright exciting. It is a white knuckle experience and a testament to Zemeckis' ability to control the strings and Washington's ability to captivate an audience. After the crash the spiral begins, investigations begin, questions are asked, and Whip is forced to deal with himself. Or not.

This is hardly the first film to deal with alcoholism with a character who seems to be oblivious of or just ignoring of the issue. As I sat I'm that theater, I could not help but think of last year's Young Adult. That film was an interesting look at an alcoholic in a movie that does not directly address it. I also think that was a better movie. While Flight features a compelling lead performance, the story takes familiar turns and ends in a rather predictable "I've seen the light" uplifting fashion. Granted, it is probably the only way it could have gone, but no chances were taken. Line them up and knock them down.

The story, written by John Gatins (Real Steel), presents us with a drunk and proceeds to remind us of his inability to stay sober at every turn. Everything is very blatant, from the vehicle of his redemption introduced at the outset to the use of another addict to help shed light on himself to the recurring mention of God and faith. I was involved, but it was not a graceful involvement. The supporting cast had roles to fill but never really felt complete, the one exception could be Nicole (Kelly Reilly), an interesting character who disappears too soon.

Flight is a movie made with dedication, but ultimately is a Hollywood picture. No matter how much misdirection we are given with an A lister playing a flawed figure who is no hero, this is all a build up to the climactic admission at just the right time to satisfy the needs of a studio backed tale. At least that's how I see it.

Flight is perfectly fine melodramatic entertainment. A few more chances taken, a little more judicious editing, perhaps a more finely developed character or two and this could have been something really special. I will give it credit for being a decidedly adult targeted feature, we get far too few films of this cut. Maybe that's a good thing, ah, you know what I mean.

Mildly Recommended.

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