Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Movie Review: Flight (2012) Dir. Robert Zemeckis

Flight by Robert Zemeckis
Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Blurb: Captain Whip Whitaker starts the day with a bump of coke, some beer and liquor and a naked woman in his hotel room, an hour later he is flying a plane. Technical malfunctions cause the plane to crash but Whitaker is the hero of the hour. What follows is a study of substance abuse set against the background of a crash investigation that brings to light Whitaker's criminal past.

Thoughts: Robert Zemeckis. I should have known.

A lot has been made of this being the first live action film directed by Zemeckis since 2000, he's been focusing on scaring people with animated versions of Tom Hanks since releasing Cast Away and What Lies Beneath, plus it's only the second R-rated film in his career. Zemeckis is most famous for his work in the 80s with Back to the Future and Roger Rabbit being the kind of career highlights most people would only dream of but then in the 90s he won an Osccar for the cheesy Forrest Gump movie and all hint of credibility abandoned him. Essentially what I'm saying is that he's never going to be first choice for a Trainspotting remake and as such your expectations for a dark movie about an alcoholic should be lowered.

The movie opens with an incredible amount of tension, and very quickly you're made aware that this is an adult movie dealing with adult content, we're a long way from Tom Hanks land here folks. But yet another fine performance from Denzel Washington aside this movie is very top heavy, the great stuff happens in the first 30 minutes and slowly reaches an ending that could never live up to what's already occurred.

Denzel is as good as Denzel has been in a long time (probably 2007's American Gangster was his last good performance for me) and the way that the script sets him up as a hero that the audience desperately wants to get behind only to slowly strip him of all dignity is wonderful stuff. Full marks to screenwriter John Gatins for making the most of the real life of Robert Piche for great dramatic effect.

It's a strong Hollywood movie despite the musical choices seemingly being made by a 17 year old who googled "music about drink and drugs" and then bought the rights to use the most popular results in as obnoxious a way as possible throughout the film. Even the love scene was destroyed by cliched music choice, it wasn't Barry White but it could have been.

At over 2 hours long it keeps you watching, enthralled by Washington and the black clouds hanging over him; new heroin addict girlfriend, his best friend is his dealer, wife and son no longer speak to him, criminal investigation and his general self destructive behaviour are just some of the major stones around his neck, until Zemeckis in true Spielberg/Hollywood fashion just flat out kills the movie in the last 35 minutes. First comes possibly the worst filmed "courtroom" scene of any mainstream movie I've ever seen, visually messy and dull plus there's no tension and not just because the ending is obvious to anyone who has ever watched more than one Hollywood film but because Zemeckis seems to have ignored that requirement, it's almost as if he got to the convention room set, put the people in it and thought the dialogue would do all of his work for him. Then what follows is one of the most overused movie cliches of the "dark" happily ever after and I won't spoil it for you but you'll probably see it coming a mile away and wish you'd waited for DVD.

I can't respect that kind of production, if you're going to make a dark movie about the effects of addiction you should go all the way and not pussy out when it comes to the hard facts of life.

I struggled to come up with great movies about addiction to compare and contrast and to recommend as additional watching, it's not usually my forte but I do offer you Frank Sinatra in The Man With The Golden Arm. Anybody make further suggestions? Leave all that and anything else you care to say in the comments.


  1. Good review Toby. The film as a whole, definitely did not engage me as much as Denzel’s powerful performance, but still kept me watching the whole time. I hope he gets a nomination because it’s some of his best work I’ve seen from him in a long, long time.

    1. Thanks Dan. I think he'll probably get the nomination but won't win. It's Denzel, he's won a bunch of them already and I'm not sure this performance is as good as some from his past.

  2. I actually had to get on a plane the day after I saw this. I liked it better than you guys, but not much better. You and I were sympatico on the beginning. Thirty minutes in and I'm pretty sure my nails had been chewed to ribbons.

    1. Hey Alan, that can't have been a very merry flight for you.
      As i said I really enjoyed this. Would have easily achieved 4 stars with better music choices and less cliched denouement. That's how bad the ending was for me.

    2. I thought the ending was a little cheap myself. It was... somewhat emotionally satisfying, but not really what I thought the movie needed, but I pretty much think they blew their wad in the first half hour. And, as you mentioned, it was the worst flight ever.

  3. Nice review. I was slightly letdown with the film, but I liked it overall. Washington's great performance helped, and I loved James Badge Dale's cameo performance.

    Have you seen Oslo, August 31st? That's a great film dealing with addiction. It will be on my 2012 top 10 list.

    1. I've been hearing good things but it hasn't had an Australian release as far a i can tell. It did screen at the Melbourne Film Festival in July so maybe one day.

  4. Ah bummer, sorry you didn't dig this one more. It'll definitely be one of my favorites of the year. It just... spoke to me, if that makes sense.

    I'm fascinated by addictions films, some great ones in which substances are abused:
    The Lost Weekend
    Days of Wine and Roses
    The FIre Within
    Drugstore Cowboy
    Leaving Las Vegas
    Requiem for a Dream
    and various characters in the HBO show The Wire

    1. Alex, some good suggestions there that for some reason didn't occur to me. Seen most of them too. Cage in Leaving Las Vegas is phenomenal. Being a Soderbergh man of course Traffic should come up but I'm not certain it is as much about addiction as the others on your list.

      For me Flight is a 4 star movie reduced to 2.5 due to bad choices, so I did dig it, a lot mroe than expected actually. You could ignore the music decisions? And you didn't have a problem with the ending?

    2. I thought the ending was perfect, and was one of my favorite of the year. Easily.

      Well, wait. Which part of the ending? The testimony scene before the flight committee was, to me, perfect. I've studied addiction for the better part of my adult life (and have known a few as well) and I can tell you that most addicts as bad as Whip have two choices: lie, or die. If he kept lying, he would've wound up dead. So I like that he finally relented. And the bit in prison, while perhaps to clean and neat for some, felt very appropriate to me.

      And the music, well, yeah, I enjoyed how obvious it was. Scorsese and especially QT are just as obvious, and I rarely have an issue with it. I dunno man, this one just worked for me.

    3. I take on board your experiences with reality there Alex and that's all great but cinematically the director/writer chose to have the entire movie told as a flashback from a prison meeting room, I think clean and neat are understatements for that kind of film making decision. Tacked on happy endings are never good, even when its for a character that you want good things for throughout the film.

      The courtroom relied heavily too Denzel's performance for the kind of obvious visual setups Zemeckis used, I feel like there were so many better options for shooting what as an incredibly important scene.

  5. Hmm, I actually liked the ending and thought the courtroom scene was well done. My biggest complaints come from the poor music selections, which I see we both agree on.

    I noticed Josh mentioned Oslo, August 31st in a comment above. I highly recommend checking it out when it becomes available in your area, Toby. That's a damn good addiction film, one of my favorites from last year.

    1. Fair enough Eric, I thought Denzel carried a creatively weak director through that important scene, take him out of it and it's nothing but some obvious shots. And as I said to Alex tacked on happy endings are never good, especially when they reveal it's all been a story told whilst in recovery, with a further happy ending tacked on after the story is finished.