Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Didn't Quite Take "Flight"

     Flight is a movie which suffers a little from over-hype.  First it was a major premiere at the New York Film Festival!  Then it was billed as Robert Zemeckis's triumphant return to live action film making!  Then it premieres and it becomes Denzel Washington's greatest role in years!  Then it releases and it becomes something of a box office hit, which should have been a no-brainer. Denzel is rarely BAD for box office and the film had a trailer that made guys think that it's a bad-ass action movie about a plane crash and women expect a heart wrenching drama in which Mr. Washington would make them laugh a little and cry a lot.  Suddenly, however, film awards commentators begin concluding left and right that this box office surge has elevated Flight (pardon me, sorry) to the level of serious Best Picture contender.  Whew!
     Fortunately, I think that I was able to keep my own expectations in check.  I really expected it to be a slightly sappy drama with a brief, extremely slick and well put together action sequence that would work well as a vehicle for Mr. Washington to make people laugh a little, and cry a lot, and maybe get some awards attention.  And that is pretty much what I got.  Is it his BEST work in years?  Maybe, but not in any hands down kind of way.  I thought that his work in Book of Eli was magnificent.  Someone trains a blind man to memorize the entire Bible and fight his way across a continent.  How many actors can sell that kind of premise?
     There is also some great supporting work being done here, particularly by John Goodman (who is so hot right now, someone give him that stand out role to get a Best Supporting nod under his belt already) who continues to illustrate why he is one of America's greatest character actors in a role that probably has less than ten minutes of screen time.  Kelly Reilly gives an engaging turn as Nicole, the young woman battling similar demons who becomes Whip (Washington)'s love interest.
     The thing that keeps Flight from being elevated (again, sorry, can't help it) above a mere actors' vehicle is ironically the thing that (outside of Mr. Washington's performance) the film is receiving the greatest accolades for:  John Gatins script.  It's not a BAD script, but it plays sort of like a TV movie of the week, where an estranged husband and father battles addictions.  At times, it verges on melodrama.  Especially when Whip invades his family's home.  And it tackles a "serious issue", but in a way that is fairly easy and sanitized compared to the life paths of most "addicts" that I have known.  Whip is presented his "rock bottom" in a courtroom on a shiny silver platter.  In real life, that experience is usually a lot more messy.
      Mr. Zemeckis should be happy with his film overall, however.  He indeed demonstrated that as a director he could still pull powerful performances out of live actors.  He did not create the kind of wholly original take on the world that he did in films like Forrest Gump, Back To The Future, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but maybe that will be next time out.
     Technically, the film is sound.  The special effects sequence is brief, but seamless.  Ditto for the most impressive work done by the sound department.  This is also a pretty well shot picture, one of cinematographer Don Burgess's stronger efforts.
     Flight is a GOOD film but far from a great one.  Maybe you like shameless "message movies" more than I do, but a Best Picture nod for this flick would have been akin to the slot that was taken by The Blind Side a few years back.  That being said, Denzel is every bit as good in this as Sandy was in that, so maybe you should check it out after all.  3 1/2 of 5 stars.

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