Saturday 9 February 2013

Review: Flight

Year: 2012 (U.K release 2013)
Director: Robert Zemeckis 
Screenplay: John Gatins
Starring: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman

Synopsis is here 

I managed to slot a viewing of Flight before attending my now weekly 5 a side football game. 

"It's good isn't it?" A work colleague remarked before I ran on as sub. 
"It's alright." I commented, somewhat derisively. 

The game went on and I really thought no more of the film. As I headed home, I tried to compile my thoughts into something more comprehensive and yet even then the same two words kept ringing in my years. Even giving myself a day to let things ruminate did little to help. I found the film simply passable.  

Passable is fine. It's ludicrous to expect the greatest movie ever, every time you plant your backside in an troublesome cinema seat. However, when watching Flight, my mind was taken back to just how much I was taken by Billy Wilder's The Lost Weekend (1945) and how even now, such a film makes more of a mark. Zemeckis' film (his first live action since 2000) pulls all the necessary strings to provide the audience a comfortable feature and I feel that may be the issue of the film. The film doesn't overreach or offend and with that it doesn't give any more than it should. Considering its subject matter, I'm a little disappointed that the film doesn't take more risk. 

The film starts well with Zemeckis utilising his effects know how to premium effect. Two moments punctuate the opening act, a drug overdose (with a great use of detailed CGI effects) and a terrifying plane crash which  strikes just as hard as when Zemeckis made Tom Hanks a cast away. The two scenes intersect with each other and provide a brilliant set up to the moral conundrum that appears afterwards. The life of Whip Whitaker (Washington), the pilot of the crash, takes a turn for the worst as the addictions which have plagued him through his life come to a head. Whip was drunk when he took his role that day, but his instinct and reactions kept the fatalities to a minimum. He is considered a hero to some, yet others know what they saw that day before the crash.

Denzel Washington, like Daniel Day Lewis is an actor whose control over their roles are so strong that they are frightening. Washington elevates the films trajectory, simply by being such a commanding performer. Witness the moments of the crash, his voice is almost abnormally calm, yet his face says so much more. Washington's abilities to grasp hold of so many different emotions within a glance are what make him a performer worth watching. He is an actor that doesn't need dialogue to convey the message; he understands the body language and nuances of the roles he plays so well, he embodies them. 

It's Washington's performance that makes Flight worth a watch, along aside the Zemeckis direction of the plane crash. Everything else unfortunately is a little too obvious for its own good. Some have taken Martin Scorsese to task for his love of the Rolling Stones (Gimmie Shelter in three different films), however, when we see John Goodman roll out of an elevator while Sympathy for the Devil plays, you don't have to be Barton Fink to see where his morals lie. 

The heavy handedness of the films symbolism and metaphors combined with the straight edged screenplay do little to enhance the heft displayed by Washington's performance. The messy issue of addiction is as neatly wrapped here as Wilder's then convention breaking movie back in 1945. One feels that more could be added to Flight, but it wouldn't land itself so safely in its comfort zone.

However, to end on a positive note, it's great to see more of the beautiful Kelly Reilly who puts in some great work as a heroin addicted photographer. It's also interesting to see just how non-pulsed the film is about race in the frame. It is a film set in Atlanta that is not white washed and is full of black faces. This said, the film does not use race as a crutch in any form. The film feels truly colour blind in its relationships both work and personal. This may be just some lingering effects of a month of Lincoln and Django, but it's an observation I felt worth mentioning.