Friday, November 02, 2012
FLIGHT (Dir. Robert Zemeckis, 2012)
With its disaster movie tension and tone, Robert Zemeckis’ first live action film since 2000’s CAST AWAY (and first R-rated movie since 1980’s USED CARS) comes on at first like it could be a reboot of the ‘70s AIRPORT series. Albeit a more edgy version, as we witness pilot Denzel Washington snort a few lines of cocaine before take-off, and drink vodka while in flight.
Despite the drinking and the drugging, when the airplane’s machinery malfunctions Washington is still able to successfully make an emergency landing, after the stunning maneuver of flying the jet upside down to halt the dive. Washington’s skills saves 96 of the 102 lives (or “souls” as he says it), and he’s initially hailed as a hero, but his hospital toxicology report could get him lifetime imprisonment for manslaughter.
As he’s recuperating, Washington tries to quit drinking and throws out all his liquor and beer. This can’t help but be comical as the supply of booze at his family’s farmhouse in the countryside of Georgia, where he’s hiding from the media, is so huge that he keeps finding more to dispose of.
Washington’s sobriety doesn’t last long; he drops off the wagon right after a morning meeting with Bruce Greenwood as a airline union rep, and Don Cheadle as a Michael Clayton-esque fixer-lawyer who is a little concerned about a certain blood-alcohol-level report. Although Cheadle is confident that he can suppress it, Washington relapses big-time.
Again, the scenes with Washington dealing with his alcoholism can’t help but be comical as we see him guzzle from a big bottle of liquor in the parking lot of a liquor store, and driving around Atlanta with a can of Budweiser in his hand. It seems like Washington spends most of the movie trying to out-drink Nicholas Cage in LEAVING LAS VEGAS.
Washington falls in with Kelly Reilly, who he met at the hospital, as a recovering heroin addict/hooker, but it’s obvious that she’s on a better path to getting her life back together than he is by getting a new job and going to AA meetings. Reilly tries to get Washington to attend a meeting with her, but he walks out half-way through. Our disgraced hero’s behavior gets even worse when he pays a drunken visit to his ex-wife (Garcelle Beauvais) after Reilly leaves him.
While Zemeckis, actually a longtime pilot himself, is a former Steven Spielberg protégé his use of music here has a Martin Scorsese-style specificity. This is most on display in the cameo by the always hilarious John Goodman, who should cameo in every movie, as Washington’s drug dealer who struts through hallways to the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil.” Washington gets Joe Cocker’s “Feelin’ Alright” as his strutting song when all he’s coked-up yet still smooth, and Reilly gets the Cowboy Junkies’ cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane” to serenade her when she shoots up in an early scene.
I dug how gutsy FLIGHT was for most of its lengthy running time (2 hours and 18 min), and was highly amused by Washington’s cocky manner of talking around people (“Don’t tell me how to lie about drinking, I’ve been lying about drinking my whole life!”), but the film hugely falters in its concluding scenes that contrive to give this appealingly un-redemptive character redemption.
Sorry if this is a Spoiler!, but in the climatic hearing, in which Washington gets questioned by Melissa Leo as an understanding federal inquisitor, I was rooting for the guy to get away with it all, like folks often do in this cruel world. Is that what screenwriter John Gatin (REAL STEEL - that’s right) wanted folks to feel? Like, yeah we know Denzel has substance abuse issues, but, da-ham! Look how good he looks even after a rough night, and he did save the majority of passengers on that doomed flight, so why not let him off the hook?
In the end, the well made FLIGHT enjoys partying with Washington so much, that its punishment of him doesn’t really fly.