Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Flight, or How not even Denzel could land this thing

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: John Gatins
Starring: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Don Cheadle & Melissa Leo.

Oscar Nominations: 2
Best Original Screenplay (John Gatins) & Best Actor (Denzel Washington)

Flight opens with a plane crash-landing sequence that is riveting, expertly crafted and ultimately the film's undoing: nothing ever quite lives up to it. Following pilot Whip Whitaker (Washington) as he drunkenly -- if masterfully -- lands a troubled plane, going so far as to steer it upside down, Zemeckis and Gatins set the scene for a story of an addict faced with improbable survival. A savior in the eyes of the media, his addiction quickly establishes him as the potential scapegoat for the airline which faces a branding catastrophe should it accept full blame on the plane's crash. Yet this legal battle feels like window-dressing once it's clear the film is more interested in the personal demons that haunt Washington's Whip.

We have seen this alcoholic-trying-to-sober up story time and time again yet other than a charmingly biting scene at the hospital staircase (courtesy of James Badgley Dale's cancer-stricken character), the film never quite achieves the high-wire act of bringing together faith, addiction and duty, coming off instead as a glossier Lifetime movie of the week. The insurance problems, the high-stakes hearings (which feature the other standout of the film, Melissa Leo) and the airline backdrop attempt to raise the stakes but ultimately the step-and-repeat structure cripples any suspense. When we see a close-up of a mini-bar bottle of vodka, any tension is dissipated by the fact that the scene plays out just as one would expect. At that point, Gatins and Zemeckis hope I'm rooting for Whip yet looking at what's on the screen, we are not given much to root for. Instead, much of the film heavily relies on Washington's own charisma to elicit our own empathy. Several shots of him walking indoors with his shades indoors wish to marry the cool-cat attitude of Washington-the-star with the miserable and hungover feeling of Washington-as-Whip. Sadly, not even Washington's star persona (which, disclaimer, has never smitten me) can keep this film from crashing into its own cliches. C

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