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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Zemeckis’

Ahh, the cinema is filled with intelligent and thoughtful dramas, clearly aimed at an audience of mature adults – it must be February. I’m not great fan of the Oscars on most levels, but at least the very fact of their existence forces the major studios to invest in this kind of film, if only so they have a chance of making a good showing on gong night itself.

There is a certain protocol involved in getting your film onto the shortlist, with a few options available to you. One of the most popular is to secure the services of one of those performers who appears to be catnip to the Academy: in short, someone who only needs to turn up in front of the camera in order to secure an Oscar nomination. We speak here of the likes of Meryl Streep, Jack Nicholson, Tom Hanks, and so forth. And to this list we can probably add Denzel Washington, who recently picked up his fifth Oscar nomination, for Robert Zemeckis’ Flight.

flight

Flight is one of those intelligent and thoughtful dramas, sure enough, though something different is perhaps promised by the opening scene, in which a hungover and drugged-up Washington engages in a foul-mouthed squabble with his ex-wife over the phone while Nadine Velazquez wanders back and forth past the camera in the buff. The nudity has been singled out for comment in most of the other reviews of this film that I’ve read, which can’t solely be down to the easiness of Velazquez on the eye: it does smack somewhat of gratuitousness, certainly, and if it’s trying to establish that this is a film for grown-ups there are surely better ways they could have done this.

Anyway, it turns out that Washington is playing someone called Whip Whitaker, who is clearly a functioning alcoholic and substance abuser on a considerable scale. This, I would argue, would be his own business – and possibly that of the people immediately around him – were it not for the fact that he is an airline pilot flying passengers around the USA every day. The film does good work in making the extent of Whitaker’s on-the-job debility quite clear without laying it on with a trowel.

However, on this particular day Whitaker’s physical state is to prove of great significance: the jet he’s piloting experiences serious mechanical failure and, as malfunctioning planes are wont to do, starts heading earthward at an uncomfortable rate. It’s up to Whitaker to try and save the plane and everyone on board. (I don’t think I’m spoiling the film when I reveal that he succeeds.)

There’s a sense in which Flight is being marketed on the strength of the plane-crash sequence, which is fair enough as it is brilliantly executed, visually striking and extremely tense. But it’s all over and done with quite early in what’s a long film, and from that point on this is a much more serious and – sorry – grounded movie.

In fact, it’s not completely unreasonable to suggest that the whole plane crash angle and the legal fallout from it is really just Hollywood sugar sprinkled onto a story to attract a mainstream audience to what might otherwise be a rather heavy and uncommercial addiction drama. The rest of the plot really revolves around Whitaker’s attempts to come to terms with his drinking, in particular. The fact he’s being investigated for his part in the crash (and may be looking at prison time if he’s found to have been drunk in charge of an airliner) raises the stakes on this, certainly, but it’s not the sole or even the largest element of the story.

Nevertheless, this is still an engrossing and intelligent drama, much darker in places than you might expect, and filled with good performances – Washington is superb, fully deserving of his nomination, willing to appear unsympathetic for most of the film, and very capable of acting drunk without being hammy. Don Cheadle plays his lawyer, Bruce Greenwood his union representative, and Kelly Reilly is another addict, this one recovering, with whom Whitaker begins a tentative relationship. All of them are very good indeed, as are most of the supporting cast.

In its closing stages the film perhaps begins to skirt cliché much more frequently than it has previously done, and the inclusion of what’s practically a theological angle feels rather uncertain – the crash is declared an Act of God, the plane clipping a church on the way down is clearly meant to be significant, and there’s a faintly (and presumably intentionally) uncomfortable sequence where Whitaker meets another survivor of the crash who is a devout Christian and insists on praying with him. There’s a touch of melodrama towards the end, with the crash-investigation plot allowing for the easy drama of what’s essentially a courtroom setting, which suits the climax. Possibly I’m just a bit thick, but I didn’t at any point find myself thinking ‘Okay, so this is how it will play out…’ – I was too wrapped up in the story and characters to step back and think about that in too much detail, which has to be a tribute to the quality of the film.

Flight is a seriously-intentioned film and, for the most part, a satisfying one, with enough subtlety and moral ambiguity in its story to engage the viewer. The acting is very strong across the board as well. Probably not ideal as a piece of in-flight entertainment, but very good for any other venue.

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