No. 385  |  Nov 25, 2012   Intro   Start   The Misery Index   FLIGHT   The Fiscal Cliff   The Financial Crisis   Prolonging The Recession   Vampires   Replay Video

Fear Of Flying

Denzel Takes Off

We In The Office, Baby

In the film, Whitaker has a son who plays a pivotal role in the plot. This is a role we can write in our heads as the film proceeds, and maybe that’s why Zemeckis left what should have been character-building scenes with the son on the cutting room floor. The son is thus reduced to a plot device, which may have been intentional. Zemeckis is hardly some inept hack, and, as stated, I believe this film was deliberately designed to work with audience’s expectations for fast-food action flicks. He has a son. We know the son exists for these plot points—A, B, and C. why waste time lingering over the son when the audience already knows why he exists in the film? I was left, however, with a deep dissatisfaction of the lack of layering for the son and Nicole, Kelly Reilly’s drug addict, for a clearer trajectory of the impact Whip had on their lives. Many of those points were simply left to audience assumption based on other movies we’ve seen, including the last two sadly predictable mass transit films Denzel made, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 where Washington gained 40 pounds for no plot reason whatsoever and then sat around for 90 minutes while being upstaged by John Travolta’s 1-note hammy overacting (why do audiences continue to buy tickets to Travolta’s tone-deaf acting?), and Unstoppable, a hackneyed and clichéd Training Day wannabe featuring Denzel sitting around for 90 minutes, getting a crick in his neck from looking back over his shoulder as he drives a train backward while Christopher Pine (who played an awful Captain Kirk in 2009’s lifeless Star Trek reboot) grimaces and feeds Washington lines for Washington to school the young buck on how things work on a railroad (“We IN The Office, Baby”).

Here Washington ironically teams with Bruce Greenwood, who grandly upstaged Pine in 2009 Trek as Kirk’s benefactor, Captain Christopher Pike. Greenwood, a wonderful actor who has, for whatever reason, never broken through to superstardom, turns in a wonderfully nuanced performance as a representative of the pilot’s union, as does the Thank God He’s In This Movie Don Cheadle, who once again reinvents himself so thoroughly as a brilliant defense attorney that, if he didn’t actually look like Don Cheadle, you wouldn’t know Cheadle was in there. It is through these performances and that of John Goodman as Washington’s enabler/fixer, that you see the actual film Zemeckis intended to make. So much so that it fosters speculation that the gratuitous nude scene and action sequence right up front may have, in fact, been added at the behest of the studio, because the remainder of the presentation is a completely different (and far more interesting) film.

The formulaic way to have approached this would have been to mix the action flick with the character study. The hit ABC serial Lost teased its plane crash, the centerpiece of the show, for more than two full seasons before you got the complete story of what happened up there and why. Similarly, Flight could have opened with Denzel in the hospital, and doled out the thunder along the way as Whip remembers what happened. That approach, which I am sure was discussed if not demanded by studio execs who know what a risk straying from formula can be, would have made Flight a more satisfying film, as we tease the action events which enables the filmmaker to thus replay them, over and over, from many angles, throughout the film. Zemeckis took the high road, however, resolving his film from a blockbuster action thriller to the fringes of independent film, out in low-budget, quiet country, where Whip Whitaker’s story is told through Denzel’s eyes and the intensity of an amazing approximation of “real” life.

It is likely that many if not most moviegoers, lured in by the idea of a big action flick, wandered out of the film shaking their heads in disappointment. Ours is simply not an intellectual environment in which a film like Flight can exist. The film climaxes on Whip's choice which, as I said, comes as no surprise, but the foundation for that choice has not been properly or effectively laid. Rather than satisfy, Denzel’s choice disappoints not because it’s not heroic but because it’s not properly motivated. The stakes are there, but we are left to do the director’s homework for him, adding things up in our heads that really needed to be on the screen—the corporate interest, the thousand-plus jobs (and thus families) at stake, and key relationships with his son and with a stewardess whose face lingers on-screen at Denzel’s breaking point. But we’re sitting there trying to remember who she is. Who? Oh, that’s right. And my mind now has to comb all the way back to the opening of the film to remember why this person factors into what, for too many of us, would have been an easy decision.

Consecutive Wrong Turns: A critical sadness lurking beneath feigned indignant bravado, layers on a cake.
Don Cheadle gives Whip the bad news.

The Scary Things

Everybody loses because of Denzel’s choice, which is brilliant writing. Hailed as a hero throughout the film, Flight rips off a much better film, Robert Redford’s brilliant Quiz Show, whose pivotal character ix likewise done it by conscience, only Ralph Finnes' immaculate Charles Van Doren's pivotal moment was brilliantly and painstakingly motivated. Whip's nobility concerning something which had absolutely nothing to do with the legal or practical issues surrounding the plane crash, likely cost a thousand people their jobs. The weight of that choice is certainly there, but the audience is left to pick it up off of the cutting room floor and figure these things out, just as we’re left to struggle with why Kelly Reilly is even in the film. She serves almost no purpose and lends suspicion that an entire subplot had been trimmed because nothing else makes much sense. Her story goes absolutely nowhere and plays absolutely no role in the film's climax. Likewise the 1-note performance by Whip’s son, designed I suppose to invoke our emotions, and why the image of a flight attendant Whip was using for fun and games and, demonstrably, little more, should matter to the film’s climax. These abrupt misses and unanswered questions suggest maybe at least a half-hour of missing footage

I understand and even applaud the movie Robert Zemeckis was trying to make. The one up on the screen is deeply flawed either because he’s asking too much of his audience or asking too little.

Christopher J. Priest
15 November 2012

No. 385  |  Nov 25, 2012   Intro   Start   The Misery Index   FLIGHT   The Fiscal Cliff   The Financial Crisis   Prolonging The Recession   Vampires   Back   Replay Video