Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Flight (2012)

2 Nominations, Wins To Be Determined

Nomination: Best Actor in a Leading Role - Denzel Washington
Nomination: Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen - John Gatins

Flight is, without a doubt, the most frustrating film of 2012.  While many films released this year can easily be forgiven their shortcomings, Flight does so much right and has so much going for it that its wasted potential is especially disappointing.

After a short and not so subtle character introduction scene that could have earned the film's R rating all by itself, director Robert Zemeckis created what is without a doubt the most harrowing and well made airplane crash sequence in the history of film, displacing the previous titleholder, the Zemeckis-directed Cast Away.  Everything about this sequence is perfect, from the subtle use of special effects to the editing, and Zemeckis avoided every pitfall that a less sure-handed director might have fallen victim to.  The scene is even more impactful due to the steady performance by Denzel Washington, who is entirely convincing as a pilot who is - all at once - terrified, drunk, high, and yet in complete control.  Long after the rest of Flight has been all but forgotten, this sequence will live on.

Unfortunately, after the crash sequence, Flight limps along with almost no sense of direction or purpose.  There is an interesting question at the heart of the film, which is whether Washington is a hero for saving the great majority of the plane's crew and passengers or a killer whose actions led to loss of life.  His character was both drunk and high at the time of the crash, yet we can clearly see that this played no impact on his actions during the crash.  There is a moral dilemma that the audience must weigh, but because we know exactly what happened in the crash, we immediately make our decision regarding the appropriate assignment of blame, and nothing in the film challenges this determination.  

So without any question of responsibility, what is the film about?  John Gatins's script loses sight of this question, and after the crash, the film is little more than a collection of scenes of Washington's character abusing substances to various degrees.  We know that he is feeling the guilt that comes from his actions, but we know this almost entirely because of Washington's stellar performance and not because of the script, which introduces us to a completely pointless subplot involving actress Kelly Reilly that does little to further character or plot development.  Instead of a film that is about the questions raised by the flight, it's little more than an alcoholic-on-a-bender film, a modern The Lost Weekend.  The film has moments where it gets back on track, mostly in scenes involving a nice performance by Don Cheadle whose character asks the questions at the heart of the film, but these moments are too few to make enough of an impact to right the course of the film.  

Still, despite its many and considerable disappointments, Flight is beautifully directed, and is a strong argument for why Robert Zemeckis should return to making at least the occasional live action film.  Zemeckis's direction and Washington's outstanding performance were both so strong that the film kept me engaged, despite my frustrations.  Just as Washington's character bravely made the best out of a fundamentally flawed vehicle to save the day, Zemeckis and Washington did everything they could to make something great out of a fundamentally flawed script.  Flight could have been so much more, but somewhere along the way, things got turned upside down.

Remaining: 3166 films, 871 Oscars, 5440 nominations

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