Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Under 250: Flight

Flight is a great return for director Robert Zemeckis, who has spent too long toiling away in the uncanny valley, and similarly an excellent shift back into straight drama for Denzel Washington, who has been caught in a cycle of thrillers.  It's a solid film on all counts: smartly paced, believably scripted, and shot with a sharp eye.  Flight doesn't wimp out, doesn't take an easier option or grant its protagonist a loophole that will sweep him up into the audience's good graces.  For that, I can respect the film.  Indeed, I'd even agree that this is a far more brilliant performance from Washington than it may first appear.  Washington plays an alcoholic pilot named Whip Whitaker, a man who drinks to excess and snorts up copious lines of cocaine to shock his system and function in day to day life.  Whip's not the guy you want flying you across state lines, but he's a pilot of exceptional skill, and when the engines on a routine flight fail, Whip calmly pulls off a move the analysts agree is almost impossible: he rolls a commercial craft, flying it upside down into it slows enough that he can glide it into an open field.  He's a hero, but a guilty one.

As the investigation into the crash commences, Whip is caught in a cross-fire and forced to try and pull his messy life together. Flight isn't particularly pleasant, in part because Washington sells us Whip's struggles with frustrating conviction.  This is a highly nuanced role that requires a significant amount of downplaying addiction and maintaining a gloss of composure forever cracking to reveal the pain and twisted hubris below.  Washington sells it, but in spite of some impressive technical moments and a solid backbone, the film is fairly bland and frequently heavy handed with the story elements around Whip's character sketch.  Blunt symbolism, cliche music cues, and an extra 30 minutes means Flight ultimately just glides past instead of making its mark.   

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