Dear Robert Zemeckis, I want to thank you for changing your mind. After experimenting and failing - miserably - with motion-capture technology (did it hurt when James Cameron came along and did it right on his first try?), it is wonderful to see you back in the world of real actors and real sets, making worthwhile movies. Thank you.
Morality, heroism and addiction come to a head in Flight, the director's first live-action film in over a decade and, not so coincidentally, his first good movie since 2000's Cast Away. The drama, which features great performances by Denzel Washington and Kelly Reilly, is not a complete return to form, but I'll take it.
In Flight, Washington stars as Captain Whip Whitaker, a pilot who manages to save nearly 100 people when his jetliner begins to fall apart at 30,000 feet. To most, he's a hero. But he's also a drunk, and was not only drunk but high on cocaine during the infamous flight. As the government continues to investigate the crash, he attempts to escape the truth, but is unable to escape his own demons.
In other words, he gets drunk a whole heck of a lot. And hooks up with another addict (Reilly).
Washington is terrific in the lead role, his performance surprisingly subtle. Or relatively subtle, given his screen-chewing tendencies. His presence grows stronger throughout the film, a slow boil that only explodes in a few key situations. The role represents one of the more complex characters of his career, though with the competition this year, it's hard to see him earning one of five Oscar slots.
That's because the movie overall is good, but not great.
Flight begins strongly with an intense and gritty plane crash sequence and intriguing introductions to the characters, namely the one played by Reilly, who turns in what will undoubtedly be, in hindsight, considered an underrated performance. But as it enters the third act, it begins to lose steam. Whip is so out of control that his alcoholism becomes tiresome after a while; it gets to the point where you wish Zemeckis would just fast forward to the climax.
The climax is well done, but oddly unsatisfying. I was hoping the picture would go in a different, less Hollywood-friendly ending. As is, the ending is too easy and too bland. Not everyone will have issue with the ending, but I would have concluded the film (SPOILER) with Whip blaming the flight attend and then, much later, breaking down to himself, or to a friend. He wasted away everything in his life; he deserved to be punished, not redeemed.
Flight is not an incredible movie, and that may cost Washington an Oscar nomination. But the film is still good, well written and well acted. It's refreshing to see Robert Zemeckis back in the real world.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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