Synopsis: An airline pilot saves a flight from crashing, but an investigation into the malfunctions reveals something troubling.
Stars: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, Brian Geraghty, John Goodman, Tamara Tunie
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Running Length: 138 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: The last time that director Zemeckis filmed a live-action movie, he put Tom Hanks and a volleyball on an island in Cast Away after an intense and realistic plane crash sequence. In the decade that followed, Zemeckis focused on being a pioneer in the motion capture technology and yielded The Polar Express, Beowulf, and A Christmas Carol. Though none of these were the huge box office hits they were predicted to be (A Christmas Carol came close and should have done better…it was the unquestionable best of the three), Zemeckis still broke new ground and continued his history as an innovator.
Now directing his first R rated film since Used Cars in 1980, Zemeckis is back to using live actors for the impressive Flight. Don’t be fooled by the trailers that indicate a drama that centers on the aftermath of an airborne tragedy, this is a character study with a hard edge that challenges the viewer to come along for a bumpy ride. Like Silver Linings Playbook, this is a film with unexpected rewards with twists that can’t be telegraphed in advance and strong performances to anchor it.
I have to say, in the past few years I think that Washington has been coasting if you really look at the choices he’s made in films. Sticking largely to playing a variation of the same hero role, I was growing tired of entertaining yet another Washington flick where he has to save the day by land, air, or sea. He’s a consistently entertaining actor that is always the glue that holds the film together, but I didn’t see him challenging himself to do something bigger and better. In Flight, Washington the risk-taker is back with a performance that should net him another Oscar nomination.
Washington plays troubled veteran pilot Whip Whitaker who is piloting an airplane headed for disaster. Zemeckis makes it clear this is no kids film in the first five minutes and shows us full frontal female nudity and our lead actor ingesting alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine before even getting out of bed. Right away Washington brings us up to speed on where this character has come from and where he’s probably headed. Over the course of the film Washington doesn’t let us feel a lot of sympathy for Whitaker as he seems to be the only one that doesn’t learn a lesson from the tragedy he’s involved with. It’s a risky choice for an actor to play such an anti-hero…but it’s these types of roles that Washington has built an award-winning career on. Even so, this doesn’t feel like a retread of previous work…Washington is fully present and accounted for and gives one of the best performances I’ve seen from him (Glory still takes the cake for me).
Zemeckis has a nice eye for casting and he’s filled Flight with an array of curiously perfect players. Cheadle scores re-teaming with Washington (after 1995’s Devil in a Blue Dress) as a slick corporate attorney that doesn’t much like Whitaker. As a flight attendant, Tunie has a marvelous scene with Washington where we see a sad reckoning between friends. Oscar-winner Leo doesn’t come into the film until the last fifteen minutes but she gets some mileage out of a part best described as The Sigourney Weaver Role. Goodman grows tiresome as the movie goes on…but cut the guy a break…he’s been better in a number of movies released in 2012: ParaNorman, Trouble with the Curve, Argo, and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
The real find here is Reilly as Washington’s girlfriend…a woman he meets in the hospital after the accident. He’s recovering from his injuries, and she’s recovering from an overdose. The striking Reilly deserves to share some of the limelight in the film for her work here…she’s a strong scene partner with Washington and an unusual choice for second banana. Zemeckis could have gone with a more recognizable actress but he made the right choice as British Reilly brings nuances to a woman brought back to life by hope. A really impressive performance…and I think you’ll agree once you’ve seen it.
As usual, Zemeckis has designed a top of the line visual experience for audiences. Like Cast Away, the plane crash sequence is quite frightening and should send any nervous fliers running for the Amtrak terminal. In the lengthy scene, I found myself alternately holding my breath and welling up on the rollercoaster of tension Zemeckis creates. It’s a startling passage of time in the movie but central to our understanding of what happens as a result.
Zemeckis, Washington, and screenwriter John Gatins have given us a very adult picture that doesn’t pull a lot of punches along the way. Our lead character is a seriously flawed individual that needs to find his own path to salvation, love, and forgiveness in a world of his own making. The film takes wing early on and though it experiences some turbulence along the way, this is a Flight you’ll be better off for having taken.