Sunday, April 21, 2013

Flight (2012)

Director: Robert Zemeckis                              Writer: John Gatins
Film Score: Alan Silvestri                              Cinematography: Don Burgess
Starring: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle & Bruce Greenwood

Flight is undeniably a powerful film. Everyone in the film, crew included, acquits themselves admirably. Zemeckis for once, stays out of his own way and lets the actors and the story take over. And what a story it is. It’s an incredible philosophical dilemma. Here you have an alcoholic pilot, Denzel Washington, with so much experience and skill that in an absolutely deadly plane malfunction he is able to save nearly all of the passengers aboard the disabled aircraft, something that it's obvious a lesser pilot would not have been able to do, and which would have resulted in the deaths of everyone on board. How do we then, as a society, assess that particular situation?

It’s clear as the film progresses that our society has become a game of cover your ass. The owner of the airline clearly does not want to be held responsible. He would like to shift the blame, rightfully so, to the airplane manufacturer. But how can the manufacturer take responsibility when they have no control over the maintenance of the plane? At this point everyone starts looking to the pilot as the obvious scapegoat. And when he’s discovered to be a drunk, it would seem to make it that much easier. Yet how do we simply ignore the fact that he save the lives of nearly a hundred people who, in the hands of a lesser pilot, would have perished? Unfortunately, that question was not the emphasis of the film.

Gatins’ script instead focuses on the addiction of the pilot rather than the philosophical question, and it’s no doubt this fact that is responsible for the film’s lack of critical praise. The idea, while spot on in terms of accuracy, and made utterly believable by Washington, has been done already, from Days of Wine and Roses, to Clean and Sober, to When a Man Loves a Woman, and beyond. And for those who deal with that behavior from family members or friends, the film is not a powerful drama but an unwanted mirror on behaviors so exasperating in their pointlessness that it takes all of the entertainment out of it. Washington is completely paranoid, even of his own lawyer who is working miracles to help him. But that’s the behavior. He abuses alcohol to the point of passing out. But that’s the behavior. None of it makes any sense. But that’s the behavior.

While Denzel Washington was nominated for an Oscar for his performance, and deservedly so, he also has made some unfortunate choices in his career path that have not really been to his best advantage. Early in his career he did some incredibly important films, like Malcolm X, Cry Freedom and Glory, for which he won a supporting actor Oscar, but then went on to do films that are more in a pop culture vein, somewhat diminishing his stature in The Bone Collector and John Q. Now these are not necessarily bad films, but after winning another Oscar for Training Day, it doesn’t seem likely that he can keep winning for similar characters, especially going up against actors like Daniel Day-Lewis. Don Cheadle and Bruce Greenwood are great additions to the cast and lend a lot of weight. Kelly Reilly, as Washington’s partner in addiction, has done some nice work previously, but her role here is a bit generic. Zemeckis’s one misstep in casting is John Goodman, who brings unwanted humor to the situation. At the end of the day Flight is a good film. It’s not great, but worth it to see Washington’s very powerful performance.

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