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Rated R for nudity, language, adult situations, drug use, violence and some intense scenes
posted Nov 9, 2012 - 2:49:19pm
It’s been more than a decade since director Robert Zemeckis made a live-action film – 2000’s Cast Away – and in an odd way, Flight tells a similar story. Both are character studies starring celebrated A-list actors who stretch their abilities to a breaking point; both characters realize they have to save themselves after surviving a plane crash.
The difference with Flight is how introspective that journey is. Whereas Tom Hanks had to transform himself into a survivalist on a remote desert island, Denzel Washington’s struggle is with internal, perhaps more insidious demons.
The story follows ace pilot Whip Whitaker (Washington), but make no mistake: Flight is about alcoholism and addiction. After he performs risky, impossible maneuvers to crash-land a jet relatively safely in a Georgian field, he is hailed as a hero. But his adulation only lasts until his crippling dependence on alcohol is revealed. Suddenly, it’s Whip, the leader of his union (Bruce Greenwood) and their cocksure lawyer (Don Cheadle) against an industry that requires blame for the accident. The twists are predictable, but tactfully done, and nothing about Flight comes across as stale.
Flight is a little heavy-handed in its message, at times seeming like an anti-alcohol propaganda film from the 1950s: Even as Whip’s addict-in-recovery love interest (Kelly Reilly) appears to clean up with ease, Whip drinks himself stupid every night without remorse. Charming though he is at times, he is rarely shown to be a good person, and there’s no subtlety to his addiction. It’s exaggerated to the point of caricature.
But at the same time, the film undermines its own message. I don’t want to ruin too much here, but for about 10 minutes near the end, cocaine nearly becomes the hero thanks to white dragon-wrangler John Goodman.
In all other aspects, though, Flight is great. The first half-hour, especially, is alternately compelling, gripping, tense, cathartic – and then, of course, tragic. The entirety of the flight, from takeoff through the aftermath of the crash-landing, is one of my favorite movie sequences of the year, easily the film’s highlight. This, of course, means it tops out early on and then slows down, but there are enough good moments throughout that it never feels slow. Whenever Goodman is on-screen, he steals all the charisma in the room, and when Melissa Leo’s character finally questions Whip near the film’s climax, things get appropriately tense.
Popcorn represents how fun a film is to watch—how funny it is, how exciting the special effects are, and how enjoyable the story is on repeated viewings. The perfect popcorn movie would be one that never got stale regardless of how many times you’ve seen it.
Flight is a character study on Whip Whitaker with a supporting cast full of people focusing their lives exclusively on saving his. No one seems to have any motivation beyond “Help Whip,” or – tangentially – “Coach Whip and save the union.” This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s impressive how much the audience cares about Whip, considering he’s not a particularly likable guy. It does turn what could have been a fun movie with an intriguing ensemble cast into something significantly more dramatic.
Flight is not the best movie of the year, but there’s enough going for it that it could rightfully inch its way into the conversation. The message has no timeliness, and its exaggerated nature actually detracts from whatever relevance it might have had. Even with the hard-R modern edge Zemeckis gave it, Flight feels like it could have been 1987’s best picture winner wrapped in 2012 packaging. Still, it’s an expertly made film, and the crash scene alone is nearly worth the price of admission.
Stars & Popcorn grade: 4 stars, 3 1/2 popcorn.
— Hunter serves as editor-in-chief for movie-review website Stars and Popcorn. To learn more about Stars and Popcorn, visit www.starsandpopcorn.com. Send e-mail to Hunter at email@example.com
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