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June 24, 2024

Flight: Movie Review

By Bernie and Sand Pilarski

Bernie said:

You know, so far this year Sand and I have been cruising the theaters mostly for animated movies and sci-fi/fantasy. And that's okay by me. I largely go to movies for escapism; I admit it. Maybe it's a function of my age, but I really don't want to be scared out of my shorts, nor do I want to see any more entrails than is absolutely necessary, and to be honest, comedies nowadays are largely vulgar, and I'm just not into the screaming teen hormones of today's vampires and werewolves. So give me a good animated lizard or an alien invasion and I am happy.

That doesn't mean I don't enjoy a good adult drama when one comes along. I am for instance totally looking forward to seeing Anna Karenina, assuming of course that our local megaplex thinks we are capable of such lofty viewing. Those powers that be allowed us to see Flight this past week, and so Sand and I grabbed the popcorn and settled in.

Director Robert Zemeckis is no slouch and certainly has a better than average collection of films to his credit (he is the Oscar winning director of Forrest Gump). The star of the film, Denzel Washington, is also a rather accomplished artist: he's got two Oscars on his trophy shelf already, and bunches and bunches of other awards and nominations, and if there is any fairness in the world, will have at least another Oscar nomination for this film. Along with a remarkably crafted script and a talented supporting cast, Zemeckis and Washington deliver a very satisfying and remarkably exciting film.

The first part of the film is dominated by the events surrounding an airplane crash. Washington's character, Whip Whitaker, is a commercial pilot who has managed to do his job despite a drug and alcohol habit that has pretty much wrecked the rest of life. Everything changes, however, when bad weather and faulty maintenance cause a catastrophic failure of Washington's aircraft, sending it into an uncontrolled dive toward a residential subdivision. Whitaker is able to use some remarkable skill as a pilot to gain enough control of the plane to avoid the homes and land in an open field. Six people die in the crash, but astonishingly, nearly a hundred others survive.

Whitaker is a hero. But the crash must be investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, and that investigation will almost certainly expose Whitaker's addictions and subject him to criminal prosecution.

There are really two crashes in this movie. The first is a plane crash. For anyone who has ever flown on a commercial aircraft in really bad weather, the first twenty minutes or so of this film does indeed as Whip Whitaker says in the film, "exercise the sphincter." There are no cheap disaster movie gimmicks, just a surprisingly visceral feel of being on board a plane being buffeted about in a storm, and then after a gut wrenching mechanical failure, the dizzying uncontrolled descent and the violence of impact. Good stuff, good special effects. But this is not a special effects film. The rest of the movie is about the second crash and burn as Whitaker's life is torn apart by the NTSB's investigation. This crash takes place in slow motion. It is excruciating for the audience that sees the story unfolding and, like the passengers on the ill-fated plane, can do nothing but brace for the inevitable impact.

Backing up Denzel Washington, there are strong performances by Bruce Greenwood as the union rep for the pilots' union, Don Cheadle as the slick lawyer trying to guide Whitaker through the NTSB investigation, Kelley Reilly as a girl Whitaker befriends who has her own demons to slay, and a truly remarkable bit by John Goodman who provides some unforgettable levity in an otherwise grim tale.

This is a good movie. I suspect some people will not like it because it is film in which drug and alcohol use is shown to have stark, negative consequences, that getting plastered is not funny recreation. And yet, while that is the unmistakable message of this movie, it is not preachy. It tells a story. It allows the viewer to experience that story, and the experience is not pleasant. As the main character Whitaker says at one point, "this thing is so heavy it's killed me."

Meat and potatoes, this one. Good movie, good story, good acting. Cough up some bucks and go see this one in the theater.

Sand said:

Great movie. I thought I was just going to see a film about a crash and an investigation. I didn't realize that the tension and gut-wrenching anxiety I'd feel about seeing the spectacular rendition of a plane wreck would be mirrored in the rest of the movie, as I watched Whip lose control and plummet, far beyond the reach of his lies.

Bernie has nailed the review, as he often does, but I still have something to say about the rating of Flight.

Flight was rated R for some nudity and sexual scenes, to be sure. The story opens with Whip waking after spending the night with one of his flight crew, who ambles around nakedly while he talks on the phone with his wife. She (the crew member) takes her good old time ingesting a bit of booze and illegal drugs, sporting some bare and unconvincingly profound breasts (given how skinny she is.) Later in the story, we are treated to a vision of Denzel Washington's butt-crack peeking out of the back of a hospital gown. Did those scenes have anything to do with the story, thus demanding the "R?"

No, they didn't. Butt-crack scene was lose-able, and the nude scene with the crew member didn't serve to indicate that Whip had any real sense of attachment to her. She was Whip's entertainment -- there was no indication at all that he cared anything about her.

As to the R-rating being necessary due to scenes of drug abuse ... maybe, as John Goodman made an engaging character of Whip's drug dealer. He knew his business and he knew how to deliver.

I think the movie could have lost the ass-and-titties aspect, kept a PG-13 rating, and given teens a chance to see what substance abuse is about: consequences.

But that's not entertainment, is it?

Good movie, didn't go far enough with its message.

Article © Bernie and Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2012-11-05
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