Sunday, November 18, 2012

Flight: Movie Review


Character study boldly blurring the lines of life, happiness and right and wrong.
Beginning Awards Season with a crash (in a good way), “Flight” eschews the general desire to turn a plane crash into either a dramatic sob-fest or a suspenseful thriller. What we have here is a character study, plain and simple. It doesn’t cower under the idea that your lead character needs to be sympathetic. He’s not. It’s dramatic but it’s also ambiguous without ever purposely leading the audience astray. I can’t say the same about the trailer. 2012

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

Screenplay by: John Gatins

Starring: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly and Don Cheadle

The trailer was trying to market a dramatic plane crash where the public has chosen a hero, in the form of Denzel Washington in a superb performance, but an insidious court case is trying to undermine that. In actuality, a dramatic plane crash starts a series of subtle events that clearly show that Whip (Denzel Washington) is not a hero, will never be a hero, and a just court case is going to determine how many years he’s going to spend in jail. I might have simplified that a bit, but all they got right was the plane crash and the superb performance by Washington.

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures. Denzel Washington is Whip Whitaker
in FLIGHT, from Paramount Pictures. © 2012 Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.
Whip is a deeply troubled man, so troubled, that he has spent years successfully confusing himself, and pharmaceutically inducing himself, into a state of happiness. Whenever life events start threatening the illusion that he’s living on cloud nine, he just has to snort some cocaine, and then he is as high as a kite. He has actually tricked his brain into thinking that’s the standard form of happiness. That is self-destruction to the max, and it has never been as beautifully or optimistically portrayed as it was here. And it’s that kind of juxtaposition that makes the film better than what most people saw.

As with most long-term addicts, Whip is entirely functional and aware when he’s high and/or drunk, so when he crash landed the plane without killing everybody, he’s pretty sure, and the audience starts wondering, that he is indeed a hero. The handful of people in his life who he hasn’t alienated insist he needs to get sober, and his lawyer is trying to hide evidence of his cocaine and get a court to not convict him of manslaughter.

Meanwhile Whip vacillates in varying levels of interest in getting sober and falls for a girl who is less damaged by, but just as addicted to, cocaine, heroine and other illicit substances. Nicole (Kelly Reilly) has a more dramatic character arc as she fervently struggles with becoming a better person. Whip’s character arc is much more subdued and stretched out with much more ambiguous roots and branches but that’s what makes it all the more intriguing.

Whip’s intensity in staying true to himself but also remaining unattached to anyone else in life gets highlighted by contrasting song choices and philosophical monologues. The humour is wicked; so is the anti-hero. I would have liked a bit more ambiguity at the end, but then again they were already dangerously flying too close to the sun.