Thursday, November 29, 2012

Flight

"This is your captain speaking. If you look out the right side of the plane, you'll see we're passing over the Grand Canyon."

"This is your captain speaking. I've just turned off the No Smoking sign."

"This is your captain speaking. The in-flight movie is Sleepless In Seattle, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks."

And so it goes for two-and-a-half hours in the riveting tale of a cross-country flight, with Denzel Washington as the low key pilot who lands the plane safely after no issues arise.

Well, no. Of course not. Can you imagine?

Flight is the story of a truly great airline pilot who manages to land a plane safely after a severe mechanical failure dooms it. The malfunction is based on a real life incident Alaska Airlines Flight 261, where all hands were lost despite the daring maneuver that Washington's character, Whip Whitaker, pulls off in this film.

The catch is that Whip is stoned and drunk and sleep-deprived at the time. Really, I had no idea what this movie was about going in, but that's it: It's kind of in the Lost Weekend genre. And it's the kind of story that director Robert "I Guess A Back To Future Part 4 Is Out Of The Question" Zemeckis proved to proficient with his last non-animated film, Cast Away.

It's good. Denzel is good. Kelly Reilly, as his love interest, does a convincing American accent. Bruce Greenwood is the old pal trying to extricate Whip from the mess, and save the airline. Don Cheadle is the slick, cynical lawyer whom Whip manages to amaze. And the great John Goodman is Whip's drug dealer.

Goodman is almost metaphysical in his appearances. Actually, before realizing it was a Lost Weekend, I thought maybe it was going to be a Steambath thing. When Whip and Nicole (Reilly) meet, it's because they've gone to the stairwell to have a smoke, where they encounter a dying chemo patient (James Badge Dale). It's all kind of surreal.

But, whatever the larger thematic implications were to be, it's ultimately a literal scene in a literal movie.

Which brings me to the only real problem I had with it: It was ambiguous about religion, at best. Murky, is probably the word. For example, Whip's co-pilot is a Jesus freak, and he panics when the plane is in trouble. Later, when he can fry Whip (and he has reason to) he prefers to have him pray with him.

This seems to be a matter of him being nuts and Whip cynically exploiting that. I wish we could say that this was just Whip's POV but it's really the movie's.

There's a similarly ambiguous treatment of some nearby baptists who flee the plane crash, but then pull people from the wreckage, and later still make something of a shrine out of the crash site. (This also contributed to the metaphysical feel the movie had at times.)

This faithlessness ultimately weakens the climactic moment of the film. I won't elaborate to prevent spoilage, but there it is.

Still a good movie. Just not great.

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