Thursday, December 12, 2013

Flight (2012 film)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by John Gatins, Flight is the story of a substance-abusing airline pilot who manages to stop an airplane from crashing as he later tries to deal with addiction to drugs and alcohol. The film marks a return for Robert Zemeckis after a period of helming motion-capture animated films as he explores a man dealing with his addiction and actions. Starring Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, and Melissa Leo. Flight is a harrowing yet gripping film from Robert Zemeckis.

The film is this exploration into the life of an airline pilot who is brilliant but troubled by his substance abuse when he suddenly does the impossible and save a bunch of lives during a crash landing that could’ve killed everyone on board. Yet, he not only deals with the fact that there were a few people that did die but also the questions into whether he’s a hero or was he negligent in his role during this event. In turn, Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is forced to face not just what he did but also his substance abuse as he’s an alcoholic who also occasionally does some cocaine. While meeting a recovering heroin addict in Nicole (Kelly Reilly), he tries to deal with the lies he has created as friends try to help him yet the guilt over the lives that were lost and his actions continue to haunt him. It’s a film that is about a man dealing with guilt where he would eventually reach his bottom.

John Gatins’ screenplay is largely a character study about Whitaker as he’s a man that is divorced and he doesn’t see his son very much while he spends most of his time drinking and doing some cocaine with a flight attendant. He’s even intoxicated during this flight where everyone could’ve died but he has somehow managed to pull something off that some describe as miraculous. The film’s first act not only follows Whitaker’s day where he nearly crashed the plane but also Nicole who would reach her bottom after nearly dying of a heroin overdose. Whitaker’s encounter with Nicole would have him thinking about getting sober but his demons would often come back which would threaten their relationship as Nicole is eager to stay clean.

Adding to the chaos of Whitaker’s life is an impending hearing he has to face about his role where he asks those to lie for him so he can save his own skin. Still, there are those like his friend Charlie (Bruce Greenwood) who wants to help as does Whitaker’s lawyer Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) but Whitaker proves too much to be a man who is just unraveling. Especially as he is convinced that he’s failed as a husband and father as he hopes this hearing he is to attend will get him back on a plane and just do what he does without compromise.

Robert Zemeckis’ direction is unique in not just some of the way he presents the drama but also in the fact that it is a story of a man not willing to face his demons as he is waiting to hit his bottom. Much of the direction in terms of the drama is pretty straightforward but also entrancing in some of the close-ups he creates to showcase the sense of pain and denial that Whitaker is dealing with. He also puts in some little details into the compositions such as the line of coke that is on a small mirror or a tiny bottle of vodka. There is a sense of unpredictability in the way Zemeckis captures a man that could be falling apart one day or be sober the next though it all plays into Whitaker’s state of mind as he just wants to self-destruct or lash out at someone. Still, Zemeckis wants to present Whitaker as a good man in a scene where he helps Nicole move out of her apartment where he fights off her landlord as he would offer her a place to stay. Even as he accompanies to meetings where Zemeckis has the camera on a person talking as well as Whitaker’s reaction where it does play into a sense of foreshadow.

The plane crash sequence is definitely one that is filled with terror and gripping suspense where Zemeckis maintains a claustrophobic intimacy of what goes on in the cockpit as well as where the passengers are sitting as the plane would go upside down. The shots of the plane from the outside are quite spectacular to play into the horror and the sense of the impossible that Whitaker pulled off. Still, that moment would be shown in numerous occasions including the hearing that Whitaker attends as it’s definitely one of the most chilling moments of the film as it is also its climax. One that is just unforgettable not just in its dramatic impact but also in the way Whitaker has to face not just truths about himself but everything else he did in that day. Overall, Robert Zemeckis creates a very powerful drama about a man facing his own demons and the lies that he surrounds himself with.

Cinematographer Don Burgess does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography from some of daytime locations in Atlanta as well as the scenes in the Whitaker farm to some of the interior scenes such as some shots in hotels and the bars that Whitaker goes to. Editor Jeremiah O’Driscoll does brilliant work with the editing from the use of rhythmic cuts for the film‘s intense moments in the plane to some of the stylish cuts for some of the film‘s dramatic moments. Production designer Nelson Coates, with set decorator James Edward Farrell Jr. and art director David Lazan does fantastic work with the set pieces such as the plane as well as the farm that Whitaker lives in as a sanctuary to get away from the press and the world.

Costume designer Louise Frogley does terrific work with the costumes where it‘s mostly casual with the exception of the hippie-like look of Whitaker‘s friend/drug dealer Harling. Visual effects supervisors Kevin Baillee and Hitesh Shah do amazing work with the visual effects for the scene of the plane where it plays into that sense of danger where it looks like it‘s going to crash as it‘s one of the film‘s major highlights. Sound designers Dennis Leonard and Randy Thom do superb work with the sound to capture what was going on inside that plane as well as some of the sound mixing to play into the troubled state of mind from Whitaker as well as Nicole early in the film. The film’s music by Alan Silvestri is wonderful for its broad orchestral score for some of the film’s intense moments along with low-key cuts to underscore the drama while its soundtrack contains a mix of music from the Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, Marvin Gaye, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and several others.

The casting by Scot Boland and Victoria Burrows is incredible for the ensemble that is created as it features some notable small performances from Nadine Velazquez as the stewardess Whitaker is with in the beginning of the film, Peter Geraty as the airline owner who wants to punish Whitaker for making him lose money, Garcelle Beauvais as Whitaker’s ex-wife Deana, Justin Martin as Whitaker’s son who doesn’t want to see him, Tamara Tunie as a flight attendant that survived the crash as she knows about Whitaker’s substance abuse, and James Badge Dale in a very memorable one-scene performance as a cancer patient Whitaker and Nicole meet at the hospital. Brian Geraghty is terrific as Whitaker’s co-pilot Ken Evans who would survive the crash as he would be a key person that would force Whitaker to confront his demons. Melissa Leo is wonderful as a NTSB investigator who interrogates Whitaker at the hearing.

John Goodman is very funny as Whitaker’s drug dealer Harling who always comes in to a Rolling Stones song as he would find ways to get Whitaker back up as he’s also a very unique individual who is an enabler but also the one person that can get him to focus. Don Cheadle is superb as Whitaker’s lawyer Hugh Lang who tries to get Whitaker to face the reality of his situation while admitting to not liking him. Bruce Greenwood is excellent as Whitaker’s friend Charlie who tries to help him deal with the legal things as well as trying to get him sober no matter how impossible it is. Kelly Reilly is fantastic as Nicole as this recovering heroin addict who befriends Whitaker as she would also live with him for a while as she would struggle with his alcoholism and her need to be sober.

Finally, there’s Denzel Washington in a magnificent performance as William “Whip” Whitaker as a man who lives a very exciting but empty life of being an airline pilot as well as doing all of the things a pilot does. Yet, he is a man that is denial over his substance abuse as he is also quite cruel and abusive to others which adds a sense of power to Washington’s performance. He can make Whitaker a despicable human being but also one who is sympathetic and in need of help as it is definitely Washington creating one of his best roles ever.

Flight is an incredible film from Robert Zemeckis that features a tour-de-force performance from Denzel Washington. Along with strong supporting work from John Goodman, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, and Don Cheadle. The film is definitely one of Zemeckis’ best films that explores a man falling apart in the wake of a nearly catastrophic event where he does something miraculous. Even as he is forced to wake up and face the demons in his life. In the end, Flight is a phenomenal film from Robert Zemeckis.

Robert Zemeckis Films: (I Wanna Hold Your Hand) - (Used Cars) - (Romancing the Stone) - Back to the Future - (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) - (Back to the Future Part II) - (Back to the Future Part III) - (Death Becomes Her) - (Forrest Gump) - (Contact) - (What Lies Beneath) - (Cast Away) - (The Polar Express) - (Beowulf (2007 film)) - (A Christmas Carol (2009 film)) - The Walk (2015 film) - (Doc Brown Saves the World) - (Allies (2017 film))

© thevoid99 2013


Dan O. said...

Good review Steve. While the movie did start off very fine and surprisingly, very smart for a mainstream drama of this nature, it all of a sudden turned that corner into cheeseville, and ended on a note that I didn't quite believe. However, through the thick of this all is Denzel and man, does he put in a performance!

thevoid99 said...

I actually think the ending work because it is a film about redemption and one man facing the lies that he created where he would eventually find salvation.

Alex Withrow said...

So glad you liked this one. And VERY happy to hear that the ending worked for year. The end of this film was one of the most moving endings for me last year. Denzel... ah, he killed it.

thevoid99 said...

@Alex-Withrow-I thought it was a great ending. I don't know what was the problem with it. After all, the man just went through hell and is finally trying to face his demons.

Lights Camera Reaction said...

Excellent review, very detailed too.
Flight is let down with a muddled script. Luckily, Washington’s phenomenal performance makes up for most of the films flaws. Washington’s anti-hero reminds me of Charlize Theron’s Mavis Gary in Young Adult. I much preferred Young Adult and the subtly of it; but I always find films about alcoholics fascinating.

thevoid99 said...

@Lights Camera Reaction-There were things that I think they could've avoid to make it not as cliched but the performances were enough to win me over.