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Flight


Peter T Chattaway
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Robert Zemeckis's first live-action movie since Cast Away will apparently be yet another movie that begins with a plane crash.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ53JCLG9I0

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 4 months later...

I haven't been a Zemeckis fan for a while now but, after the reviews this film is getting, it looks like this film deserves a thread.

ScreenInternational:

An absorbing, intelligent character study anchored by one of Denzel Washington’s most layered performances, Flight mostly soars above the clichés of the addiction drama to tell the story of an airline pilot whose heroism inadvertently brings to light a crippling drinking problem. Representing the first live-action effort from Oscar-winning Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis in 12 years, this Paramount release is targeting both awards voters and discriminating adult audiences, and yet it’s also nuanced enough to colour outside the lines of the typical Oscar fare ...

Zemeckis has spent the last decade focusing on 3D motion-capture films like The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol, which were praised for their innovation but also criticized for their technological limitations, specifically the characters’ “dead-eyed” soulless look. Flight in some ways represents a continuation of the live-action movies Zemeckis was making before this mo-cap digression, building on Cast Away’s portrait of a spiritually isolated man and Contact’s deep pondering of issues like faith and fate.

New York Magazine:

... You’d expect the movie to decelerate—perhaps fatally—after its key sequence, but momentum is somehow maintained. Flight centers on addiction and, inevitably, recovery, and the arc of every recovery saga is pretty much the same: I’ve come to dread the inevitable twelve-step meeting. But the tight script by John Gatins (not based on a true story) daringly prolongs Whip’s denial (i.e., “not a river in Egypt”) as the National Transportation Safety Board swoops in to investigate the crash—and to figure out how to handle a toxicology report on the pilot that could be pinned up in every rehab-clinic lounge. (“Holy crap! Check out the blood-alcohol level!”)

You read Washington’s face as Whip broods in his hospital bed, a media hero who watches TV reports of the crash and its victims and knows he’s on the verge of a public shaming. In a stairwell where he goes for a smoke, Whip finds himself in the company of Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a heroin addict who’d OD’ed, and a terminal cancer patient (James Badge Dale), who wittily, sardonically, tragically raises the specter of God and of how much control we have over our own lives. It’s a good, dry performance, and the scene is so affectionate that it almost supplants the plane crash as the movie’s centerpiece. Now Whip pours out all his booze, now he buys some more, stopping, starting, stopping, always lying to his union handler (Bruce Greenwood) and the super-lawyer-fixer (Don Cheadle) hired to limit the airline’s liability ...

HitFix:

I frequently feel like studio movies arrive somewhat predigested because of how many times we've seen variations on the same basic formulas, and when you do run into something that takes its own path, that tells its own story in a way you're not expecting, it can be positively shocking. Working from a strong piece of material by John Gatins, Zemeckis seems to be trying something that is, for him, both new and a clear representation of the things that make him most interesting as a filmmaker ...

For my money, though, the last time I felt completely satisfied by a Zemeckis film was "Contact," based on the Carl Sagan novel, and I think it has some things in common with "Flight." Both are films about people who have no place in their lives for a belief in a higher power, people who are extraordinary in many ways but who seem unable to make their personal lives work in the same way their professional lives do. "Contact" basically asked if an extraordinary person was excused for personal failings if it turned out they were right, and "Flight" asks if being exceptional at one thing is enough to justify an almost total failing as a human being in other regards. Zemeckis seems drawn to the notion of people who are gifted and driven but who are unable to handle even the basic rules of social conduct ...

... James Badge Dale has only one scene in the movie, but it's a knockout, a late-night encounter in a hospital stairwell between him, Whip, and Nicole, and it was right around the end of that scene that I handed myself over to John Gatins and his script ...

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A *lot* of God-talk in this one. We might end up discussing it for quite a while, especially if all the Oscar buzz finds traction.

It's especially interesting to consider what sort of dynamic creative tension there might have been between Zemeckis, the skeptical/subversive director of Contact and Forrest Gump, and Denzel Washington, who has been very open about his faith.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Calling Ken Morefield, who's seen it and has posted on Facebook that's he even MORE in the minority of critical opinion on this one than he was on Cloud Atlas. I'm not sure what that means, not having checked what the majority critical opinion is on either movie. But I know he didn't care at all for Cloud Atlas, so ...

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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The current Rotten Tomatoes rating (based on 26 reviews) is 88%, if that helps to situate Ken's comment. (And I see now that the current RT rating for Cloud Atlas is a "fresh" 63%, which is... higher than I would have expected.)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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The current Rotten Tomatoes rating (based on 26 reviews) is 88%, if that helps to situate Ken's comment. (And I see now that the current RT rating for Cloud Atlas is a "fresh" 63%, which is... higher than I would have expected.)

Yes, that was to what I was referring. Though, when I wrote my review of Cloud Atlas its RT score was in the 80s. (Review was 'in the can" for several weeks between TIFF and opening.) So when it came back to earth it looked more like critics were divided rather than I was just in a small minority. Given FLIGHT opens in a week and the "Top Critics" are more positive towards it, I expect it will stabilize at a higher score than CA, putting me in the minority camp.

I find talking about movies I don't like to be tedious, but I will say this. I didn't hate Flight so much as despise it. Don't know if that's a distinction without a difference.

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A *lot* of God-talk in this one. We might end up discussing it for quite a while, especially if all the Oscar buzz finds traction.

It's especially interesting to consider what sort of dynamic creative tension there might have been between Zemeckis, the skeptical/subversive director of Contact and Forrest Gump, and Denzel Washington, who has been very open about his faith.

Was it Siskel or Ebert who once opined that one question he asked himself was whether or not a film was more or less interesting than would be a documentary of its participants eating lunch?

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Was it Siskel or Ebert who once opined that one question he asked himself was whether or not a film was more or less interesting than would be a documentary of its participants eating lunch?

That's Siskel, although Ebert quotes it frequently. In his Bigger Little Movie Glossary, he puts it in a declarative form which he dubs "Siskel's Saw." An interrogative form has been dubbed by someone or other "Siskel's Test."

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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It tend to think of Robert Zemeckis as two filmmakers: The one who was scrappy and interesting and fun in the Back to the Future/Roger Rabbit days, and then the one who seemed decide that, why yes, he's an important filmmaker and should be making big important movies that say things. The first filmmaker was fun to be around. The second one is consistently disappointing.

There are Zemeckis movies that never convince me to buy tickets (Beowulf, Christmas Carol). And then there are Zemeckis movies that make enough noise to raise my hopes, only to dash them (The Polar Express, Contact, Forrest Gump, and especially What Lies Beneath, which raised them and then annihilated them). Cast Away remains the only one that I find myself drawn to revisiting. I can almost always point to aspects of big, commercial moviemaking craft that he does well, and themes that I find interesting, but then the cop-outs and easy answers start piling up, and within five minutes of talking about the movie afterward I'm more frustrated than impressed. It's too early for me to share a review of this one, but let's just say that while I can understand some of the buzz about Denzel, the movie doesn't alter the trend.

And I'm sorry to say that this year marks the point where John Goodman's once formidable screen presence has devolved into a movie killer (that is to say, when he shows up, I stop believing in the movie anymore).

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I see Zemeckis as a key figure in the evolution of special effects cinema. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and The Polar Express are major breakthroughs on this front. At the same time, he has something of the old fashioned Hollywood storyteller about him, and he is clearly dedicated to his craft. The success of his films depend on his ability to negotiate between the technically innovative and the time-tested.

Edited by Nathaniel

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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One interesting thing about this film is the way Zemeckis exercises restraint in certain key areas, by not making a big deal of certain elements that turn out to be absolutely important later on. Back in the late '80s and early '90s, I used to grumble that Zemeckis never let his films *breathe* -- he was too busy pivoting the plot on Important Details etc. -- but I didn't get that feeling here at all. This film definitely *breathes*, and it underplays certain important elements (or treats them matter-of-factly, before their importance is revealed), in a way that felt much more naturalistic, to me.

For what it's worth, my expectations with regard to this film were prepped to some degree by the discussion about the film between Glenn Kenny (especially Kenny) and Jeffrey Wells, here.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Zemeckis and the author of this article reflect on the power of the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" as used in various films.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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I've been working on a paid speaking gig this week and so have not had time to write reviews that I wanted. So I just wanted to pop in and say while I did not think this movie as bad as Cloud Atlas, I hated it even more. You have been warned.

As always, your mileage may vary, and if you see it and like it, I'm happy for you.

If you see it and hate it, please don't blame me.

That is all.

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Characters who promise to play important roles disappear. Others seem to be mere caricatures, but then make confounding choices for the sake of... what? Unpredictability? The soundtrack, on the other hand, is completely predictable: "Gimme Shelter" for drug-related high-living; "Sweet Jane" for the sad female junkie. (Poor Kelly Reilly, cast as the junkie who's really sexy and who plays Rosie Perez to Denzel's Jeff Bridges in a relationship that falls far short of the one in Fearless.) It wants to be about the seriousness of addiction, but doesn't have the courage to show much more than the comic opportunities of being very drunk or high. The movie can't decide what, if anything, it really wants to say about faith. The last act crisis comes about because of a mind-boggling coincidence. And it all builds to a climactic moment that is no surprise at all.

But yeah, wild and crazy plane crash. And Denzel's a good actor. Whatever.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I shall now make the statement that more or less everyone in A&F says at one point or another but which I probably don't verbalize often enough: Jeff sums up my feelings exactly.

Of the more grating things about this film is that it thinks (I think) that it is so much more difficult or mind blowing than it really is. Addicts sometimes do heroic or skillful things,but that doesn't change their addictions. We need two and a half hours to learn this? It's like the film thinks nobody watching it has ever known or been around an addict, that we will somehow be consistently shocked, SHOCKED! at the fact that each time the addict comes to a line that we will think "surely he will not cross THAT line" and then "I can't believe he crossed THAT line after all that but surely he has learned his lesson and would not cross THAT line..." It's like it thinks it is bravely or brazenly honest in its depiction of a liar and his enablers when it is really much more prurient, taking glee in fooling the viewer ("You thought he might be taking a step in the right direction? What kind of naive fool are you? PSYCH!) rather than expanding the viewer's knowledge or understanding of the world by bringing any kind of serious insight or truth into a serious subject. The situation was contrived and I didn't believe that 90% of the things in it could play out the way they did--I'm not talking about whether or not someone could crash land a plane while drunk, I'm talking about how people would respond to a person such as that. The responses are made not because they are human but because the film needs certain people to make them in order to get to a plot situation/moment that they don't know how to get to organically so that a character could make a decision that he wouldn't make (Not that alcoholics don't have moments of clarify or admission, but I don't believe they happen in the way the film portrays.)

Oh and another thing, I believe it was C.S. Lewis who said about the question of whether God could make a rock so big He couldn't move it that you can't turn rhetorical nonsense into sense by putting the word 'God' in front of it. The scene with Brian Geraghty (the co-pilot) and his wife in the hospital was, in its own way as ludicrous a caricature of Christians as you are liable to find anywhere in some anti-Christian screed. That the film appears unaware of this is nice in one sense--it's not a deliberate smear--but depressing in another...is this how the world really sees evangelicals?

Oh dear, all attempts to not go into full rant mode have gone out the window. Somebody save me. I really need someone to say something nice about this movie so that I can let it go and leave (the thread) in despair...

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Oh dear, all attempts to not go into full rant mode have gone out the window. Somebody save me. I really need someone to say something nice about this movie so that I can let it go and leave (the thread) in despair...

Well, what did you think about James Badge Dale (from Rubicon and The Pacific)? Is it true that his character adds anything worthwhile to the film or do they waste him? I haven't seen it yet, and it's sounding like it's not worth it. But, being told that there is a theological discussion in a stairwell between Washington and Badge Dale was one of the first things that piqued my interest.

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You know, the trailer had me mixed. It looked great, but also looked like it could be just another "I hope this film gets an Oscar" movie. Denzel needs to get back to taking risks like in Training Day. I like him in darker/grittier roles, and also in nice guy roles, I mean I like him all the time, but he isn't picking the greatest movies lately.

"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

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It isn't a darker or grittier role for Washington. Rather, it's a "Darker!" and "Grittier!" role for Washington.

My review.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Well, what did you think about James Badge Dale (from Rubicon and The Pacific)? Is it true that his character adds anything worthwhile to the film or do they waste him? I haven't seen it yet, and it's sounding like it's not worth it. But, being told that there is a theological discussion in a stairwell between Washington and Badge Dale was one of the first things that piqued my interest.

He was okay, but it was one of of those "the crazy guy is actually spouting profound wisdom!" speeches that exemplifies the film's tendency to think that its cliches are innovations or moments of huge insight.Chemo fries the brain! Is he just babbling, or does he have moments of profound insight? And see how that parallels the addict who mostly spouts nonsense but may be having moments of great clarity beyond what mere, sober men can feel? For more on the cliche, and my contempt of it, see Everything Must Go (http://1morefilmblog.com/wordpress/everything-must-go-rush-2010/ )

I will, however give you Peter Gerety (Judge Phelan from THE WIRE). He was the best thing in the movie as the airline owner who has nothing but contempt for Whip and sees right through him. I couldn't help butr think of him as the same guy, grown rich, left the bench and buying a baseball team...and having had plenty of years of Jimmy McNulty's bulls**t, being totally unimpressed by the adorable alcoholic routine.

Edited by kenmorefield
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kenmorefield wrote:

: It's like the film thinks nobody watching it has ever known or been around an addict, that we will somehow be consistently shocked, SHOCKED! at the fact that each time the addict comes to a line that we will think "surely he will not cross THAT line" and then "I can't believe he crossed THAT line after all that but surely he has learned his lesson and would not cross THAT line..."

I didn't get that feeling at all. For me, each of those lines was a moment where I hoped very much that he would not cross the line, and, when he did, I utterly believed it and was disappointed (and yet, in some strange way, was *not* disappointed, for if the movie had taken the easy way out and shown him *not* crossing those lines, it would not have been so believable; in short, I was disappointed in the character but not in the film, and one of the interesting lines this movie plumbs is how it might be possible to be not-disappointed in *both* the character and the movie).

: The scene with Brian Geraghty (the co-pilot) and his wife in the hospital was, in its own way as ludicrous a caricature of Christians as you are liable to find anywhere in some anti-Christian screed.

Definitely *not* one of the movie's bright spots.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I can't add much to what's been said. Terrific for the first 20 minutes. Pretty good for the last 15 minutes. Almost insufferable for the hour and a half in between. Denzel shines, but it's not that much of a stretch for him.

Zemeckis is a good filmmaker, and by that I mean he excels in knowing where to point the camera, but so many of his "important" films just sledgehammer the audience with too much repetition. I liked him better when he had smaller budgets, which forced him to be more economical as a director.

And to followup on something Jeffrey mentioned, Zemeckis needs to look at some Tarantino films for help with his soundtrack selections. Every song he used just hits you over the head with their obviousness. Quentin is great at pulling out some gems that you may not have heard in years (decades), or some really deep cuts from known artists that aren't familiar to everyone, which add to a scene. There are some scenes in Flight where the first few chords of a song tell you exactly where the scene is going before the scene actually begins.

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

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  • 2 months later...

Hello? Is there anyone here?

Anyone here who liked the film?

Because (ducks), I did.

There's definitely some problems, as mentioned above - music selection, plot points that are nothing but plot points, tonal shifts that don't work at all (John Goodman coming in to rehabilitate Denzel's character with coke before the big hearing), but I actually liked the film a lot.

For a mainstream Hollywood flick, it seems to wrestle with addiction in a fairly real way. There are lots of long takes, and a fairly long shot average.

Denzel's character gets more and more unlikable as the movie progresses, and I like that.

If the climax (*SPOILER*, where Whit finally has to take responsibility for his actions) is inevitable, it also felt earned. To me at least, the movie at least partially meets O'Connor's dictum (I think it's O'Connor) that every story must both be surprising and inevitable.

I definitely don't think this is one of the most substantive films ever made about faith and addiction, but it seems like a pretty good one. Can't we call it above average, at least?

The film is nominated in the best original screenplay category and, frankly (and despite what others here have said), I think it's well-earned. I'm taking a screenplay class right now, and I can see why writers nominated this film. There are absolutely moments that don't work, and which feel fake, but the movie does a good job inhabiting its fairly staid, traditional mode of 'Hollywood drama.'

@Timzila

"It is the business of fiction to embody mystery through manners, and mystery is a great embarrassment to the modern mind." (Flannery O'Connor, Mystery and Manners).

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Timothy, I liked it. A lot. As it ended, I found myself thinking that how/why it hadn't held together as a 4-star movie. I was thinking about its problems. But days later, I was still thinking about it -- about its strengths, which I couldn't shake.

I definitely don't think this is one of the most substantive films ever made about faith and addiction, but it seems like a pretty good one. Can't we call it above average, at least?

Agreed.

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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