November 7, 2012
I don't care, I love Flight
Yay, Obama! OK, back to movies.
Flight is directed by Robert Zemeckis, who also directed Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Contact, and all that weird motion-capture animation stuff like The Polar Express. He makes big-budget crowd-pleasers, and even though I've seen and liked some of his movies, I have never once thought, "I don't know how good that movie's going to be, but it's a Robert Zemeckis picture, so I'm definitely seeing it."
But I did see Flight on opening weekend, and I loved it. It's a lot darker than the trailer makes it seem--I'm not going to give anything away, but it isn't as much of a legal thriller or disaster drama as it appears to be, and it gets into a lot of heavy, serious stuff about the awful things that people with addictions can do. The material is dark, the highs and lows are really high and low, and Denzel Washington, one of America's very favorite people, plays a disturbed jerk doing horrible things. This is not like Training Day, where Denzel was a super charming villain, having so much fun with his bad-guy character that we had to give him an Oscar for it. This guy is an unlikable mess, even if he looks like a million bucks in his pilot uniform and aviator sunglasses (see above).
Denzel is so good that he makes this movie, which is 100% predictable Hollywood formula, and 100% directed by Robert Zemeckis, into something nuanced and smart. This is extra amazing because the script is by someone named John Gatins, best known for anti-nuanced redemptive schlock like Hardball, and robot boxing cheese like Real Steel. Thankfully, Flight shows enormous restraint in not trying to explain why Denzel's character is so screwed up, and just presents him as he is, a screwed up guy in an impossible situation. There is, inevitably, some redemption at the end, but only for maybe 8 minutes after 2+ hours of the real deal.
Here's another knock against this movie: the soundtrack, which uses such absurdly over-played, on the nose songs to narrate the action that it almost ruins important scenes. A character scores some heroin: cue "Under the Bridge" by the Chili Peppers. Here's a drug-injecting scene: how about the drugged-up Cowboy Junkies' version of "Sweet Jane"? It's perfect! Enter John Goodman's scenery-chewing best buddy drug dealer/enabler. Time for "Sympathy For the Devil"! Frankly, it's a miracle no one decided to slap Jeff Buckley's cover of "Hallelujah" on a scene of quiet reflection on the poignancy of drinking a whole bottle of Jim Beam in one sitting.
Despite all that, it all comes together somehow and it's as great as a formulaic Hollywood movie about redemption can be. I'll say it: I love Robert Zemeckis! I certainly didn't think he had something like this in him. Too bad he won his Oscar for Forrest Gump.
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