Flight * * * * 1/2

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Director: Robert Zemeckis.
Screenplay: John Gatins.
Starring: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, Brian Geraghty, Melissa Leo, Nadine Velazquez, Tamara Tunie, Peter Gerety, James Badge Dale, Adam Tomei.

It’s been a long wait (12 years to be exact) for director Robert Zemeckis to get back to making a live action film. His last was “Cast Away” in 2000 before he delved into computer generated animation with “The Polar Express“, “Beowolf” and “A Christmas Carol“. Despite his attempts to perfect the medium of animation those three film’s weren’t entirely successful. However, having him back on more ‘adult’ duties is a reminder of how good he can actually be.

During what may, or may not, be a technical fault with an airline passenger plane, pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is forced into emergency procedures in order to land safely. The media hail him as a hero but there are troubling circumstances that lie underneath: Whip is an alcoholic and was intoxicated beforehand.

Within seconds of this film starting we are given a complete introduction to our protagonist Captain Whip Whitaker; there’s a naked woman in his bedroom and he proceeds to do a massive line of cocaine to straighten himself out before he flies a plane at 9am that same morning. Straight away, you know that this is a man that takes too many chances but it’s his cocksure arrogance and determination that has you captivated and convinced in him. We then move onto the flight itself where he helps himself to a few vodka miniatures before taking to the skies. With this strong introduction to Whitaker’s persona, what follows is an even stronger aircraft scene. It’s an intense and nail-biting set piece that will no doubt have you buckling up the next time you board an aeroplane.
After such a robust and persuasive opening you’d think that the rest of the film would suffer in comparison but Zemeckis deserves the utmost credit for slowing things down yet still managing to maintain interest. It progresses into a thoroughly engrossing character study that isn’t afraid to shed some light on the nature of addiction and the unravelling of a person in denial. Zemeckis is in no rush to tell his story which helps in establishing the feeling that this is a really solid piece of work. He also delicately handles the ethical conundrum of whether the sacrifice of a few lives is worth the saving of many. The film skilfully flitters back and forth between one ‘heroic’ action and the iniquity and irresponsibility of another; toying with the audience’s own moral judgement. Whitaker is a character that you’ll continually question but also one that can be identified with, and the ability of Zemeckis’ direction, John Gatins’ writing and a towering central performance from Denzel Washington make it all entirely believable. Washington has received a lot of critical praise from many corners here, and rightfully so. He absolutely commands the screen and without his presence or ability, this character could have crumbled in a lesser actors hands. There is strong competition amongst the Oscar nominated actors of 2012/13 but Washington is thoroughly deserving of his inclusion. The rest of the cast have little to do in comparison but still manage to add to the proceedings; Kelly Reilly’s addicted junkie adds further realism and although her relationship with Whitaker is rushed, it’s also somewhat believable. The corporate and legal side of things are dealt with admirably, by Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle and John Goodman’s character brings a welcome addition of comic relief. All-be-it, he seems to have wandered in from another movie.
As the denouement approaches, the film, admittedly, falls into conventional territory with a pending legal case and the unravelling of Whitaker’s affliction and personal demons brought to the forefront. This is unavoidable with the nature of the story but it’s still handled with tact and remains, nothing less, than absorbing and thoroughly rewarding.

It may succumb to storytelling conventions and some subplots don’t entirely fit but, on the whole, this is filmmaking of the highest order. After this, I can only hope that Robert Zemeckis doesn’t fall back into relative (animated) obscurity.

Mark Walker

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56 Responses to “Flight * * * * 1/2”

  1. Nice review. I missed Flight when it played back in theaters in November, mostly because Zemeckis’ films haven’t been very good lately, but I really do think I should see this one and have heard plenty of great things about it.

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    • Thanks man! I haven’t been all that keen on Zemeckis’ animated film’s but it’s great to have him back to live action though. I really enjoyed this one and Washington was a big plus point.

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  2. Great review Mark. I recently finished my review of Flight (it’ll go up next week) and I didn’t have quite as strong of a reaction to it. It’s certainly not a bad film but it had a few issues that pushed me away a tad. I certainly agree about the crash sequence! Amazing cinema there!

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    • Thanks bro! There were some issues with unexplored subplots but overall I thought this was solid entertainment. Washington thoroughly deserves his Oscar nom for this. Outstanding work from him.

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      • That’s another point of agreement for us. Washington is just fantastic. He’s a great actor who gives a great performance every time he’s on screen. Here it’s no different. I won’t go into detail about my gripes but you touch on some of them in your review. Hopefully you’ll check out my take next week and we can compare notes. 🙂

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      • Washington was a definite highlight. You can always rely on a bit of Denzel 😉 I noticed some flaws and touched upon them but they weren’t enough to spoil my enjoyment. I’ll definitely stop by to compare notes. I’m interested in what you have to say now. 🙂

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  3. This one has been on my radar for some time now, I do loves me a good Denzel Washington movie. Great review mate. 😀

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  4. I missed this one in the States. Your review makes me consider that a regret now.

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    • Sorry to instil regret man but if I’d missed it, I’d be full of regret also 😉 I took a lot from this film. It’s not absolutely perfect but done at a very high standard.

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  5. I’m going to watch this tonight and now you’ve got me really pumped about it. Excellent review!

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    • Much obliged sir! I hope you don’t get too pumped where you end up disappointed. 😉
      I expected to like it but not as much as I did. I thought it’s was an excellent piece of filmmaking.

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  6. I’m really sorry to have missed this one in theaters. Fine review, Mark.

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  7. Good review Mark. While I wouldn’t give it that high of a score myself (without Denzel the film wouldn’t be worth a damn), I do understand a lot of where you’re coming from. However, I don’t think that Greenwood and Cheadle’s characters were fleshed out enough and I wanted more screen time for John Goodman (who’s Argo co-star, Alan Arkin, stole his best supporting actor nomination).

    I think that James Badge Dale stole the show, however, as the cancer patient Denzel and Kelly meet in the hospital stairwell.

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    • Sorry to hear it didn’t work as well for you Nick. I really got into it. There were flaws and the supporting characters definitely had less to do than Washington but I didn’t mind that so much. Primarily, it was all about him anyway. Goodman was great but I dis feel like he belonged somewhere else.
      So glad you mention, James Badge Dale. I was aware he was in it but for the life of me I couldn’t work out which character he was. That guy in the stairwell was excellent and I had no idea it was him. You’ve cleared that up now. Cheers man! 🙂

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  8. I think you’re a little over enthusiastic about this one, I definitely wasn’t THAT high on it. The relationship between he and the junkie is silly, and she wasn’t that credible as a junkie anyways. I thought it was good, but… not that good. Just sayin’.

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    • Everyone’s allowed their two cents worth Fogs. LOL. I can see the issues that some have had with supporting roles. I definitely felt that Reilly and Washington’s relationship was rushed but every relationship he had was rushed. I think that said more about him. He was so self absorbed that he rarely connected with people properly. That aside, it was primarily a character piece about one man’s demise. It’s inevitable that the others around him won’t get a look in. It really worked for me.

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  9. Glad you picked up on Goodman looking like he was in the wrong film, that was my exact thought! Spot on review here Mark, it’d had got a so-so reception but I think it was a really strong picture. Denzel was superb and I found myself rooting for him at times but also feeling disappointed and angry about him, but I think that was the film’s whole intention.

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    • Cheers Chris. I enjoy Goodman whenever he turned up but he did seem out of sorts. I also thought it was a strong film and I think the to-ing and fro-ing of our feeling towards Whitaker was entirely intentional. That’s what made it so memorable for me.

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  10. I seriously love this film, Washington truly deserves that best actor nomination, too bad Lewis bagged all awards on all award giving body, watched this last wednesday(film review later), Great review sir, loving your blog.

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  11. Great write up Mark! After that teeth grinding plane crash sequence I felt really let down for the rest of the movie : (

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  12. Good review Mark. Denzel’s performance is great and really makes this movie his bitch, but everything else can’t seem to really catch up with him and it’s the screenplay’s fault. You know the OSCAR-nominated screenplay!?!?

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    • I didn’t realise the screenplay was nominated Dan and I can see your point. There are definite flaws in it but as a character study on Whitaker it was exceptionally well captured. An Oscar may be going too far and most of that may be down to Washington but I still thoroughly enjoyed this one. Cheers man.

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  13. Glad you liked Washington’s performance, it’s actually my favorite performance from the actor in a leading role in 2012. The film was kinda average for me, the script was a bit messy but it was worth seeing just for Denzel’s work.

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    • I can’t disagree on Washington at all Sati. I loved his performance here. It was simply astounding. Sorry to hear you didn’t find the movie worked overall but I was, personally, gripped and taken right to the very end. I loved and can completely identify with this very affliction.

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  14. I’m glad you liked this one, it really shook me up and rocked me. I suppose the ending may dip to conventional, but certainly nothing about Denzel’s performance does. That was something unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Whatta powerhouse.

    Great review!

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    • Thanks Alex! Washington stole the show without a doubt. I’m saddened to hear that many found the faults had overridden the film as a whole but I was able to set them aside and enjoy the very nature of the film: that being the portrait of addiction and how well it was handled.

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  15. ray brayne Says:

    I guess this needs a SPOILER alert. Whitakers’ breakdown in front of the investigating committee changed the whole focus of the film and not in a good way. A full blown raging addict, and one under the influence at the time, is not likely to have an attack of conscience. Is Whitaker a hero or isn’t he? 90% of the movie says he was a hero despite his substance abuse. But all of a sudden the movie reverses course and says he’s guilty of homicide. WTF! I think the producers lacked the courage of conviction here. Deus ex machina ending if ever. I was really disappointed.

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    • 90% of the movie did question it Ray but let’s not forget that Goodman’s character provided him with coke beforehand. I’ll openly admit to indulging heavily in that drug and it doesn’t necessarily provide secrecy when under the influence. It also provides a confidence within oneself to be open, not matter the consequences. Yes, Washington’s admittance was manufactured for the storyline but there still lies an element of truth. Maybe it was the coke that got him into situation but it was also the coke that provided an outlet to honest which in turn, freed him. For me, it was a marvellously attuned character study that delved into the nature of substance abuse but taken from the point of view of a respected member of society; Rather than some junkie that society couldn’t give a shit about.

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  16. It was good to see a main character that was so unlikable yet so interesting. That was down to Denzel’s performance. Very nice review Mark

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  17. solid review. Washington deserves an award for me,as you know.
    right to point out that Zemeckis does well to move away from grandstanding and tell a very good story. Have to say, I know Goodman brought some light relief but god he was annoying. A strong score from you that I agree with.

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  18. Damn I am gonna grab this from the redbox today!!!

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  19. Great review Mark! I will definitely rent this as I quite like Denzel and your review makes me want to see it more. I like the cast too, and John Goodman has always been fun to watch.

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    • Thanks Ruth. I really enjoyed it but I’m very surprised that more people didn’t. Denzel is absolutely brilliant here. As is Goodman but like I mention in my write-up, his character doesn’t entirely fit. Still fun, though.

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      • Yeah this one got some mixed reviews but I will still see it for Denzel. Btw, I tweeted you that I saw Code 46, and boy it certainly has a lingering effect.

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      • I just responded to that tweet Ruth. Glad you got a chance to see it. It certainly does leave you a bit devastated. I’d really like to see it again. I own it, so I should stick it on some day.

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  20. Great review! I thought the screenplay had some issues, but Washington’s performance made up for it.

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