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A Contemplative Adult Drama About Addiction Featuring One Of Denzel Washington's Most Complex Performances
on December 6, 2012
I know that some viewers might feel like there is a bit of a bait-and-switch when sitting down to watch the very adult drama "Flight." I was primed to see a movie about a harrowing plane crash. And indeed, this initiating sequence is staged with tremendous suspense and gut wrenching detail. It may be one of the more memorable scenes you are likely to see this year. But "Flight" is not really about this crash. It is, instead, a character study about addiction, about faith, and about taking responsibility. The heroic pilot that acted on that day is none other than Denzel Washington. But this is no ordinary hero, this is a mess of a man who fuels his life with drugs and drink. He is estranged from his family, defying propriety, and thinks that the rules don't apply to him. He's a great pilot, to be sure, that saved many souls. But he was also completely out of control when he did so. That is the moral dilemma at the heart of the movie. He is a hero. His bad acts did not cause the accident. And yet, he will still be cast in a villainous light if the truth emerges.
There are very few movies I go to these days where I really don't know what to anticipate. "Flight" started out in a completely unexpected way. We meet Washington right after a night of heavy drink and sex with a flight attendant. You know he shouldn't be flying, you know that tragedy is inevitable (if from the previews, if nothing else). But just as you are settling in, the movie takes us on a ninety degree tangent. We are than spending time with a junkie (Kelly Reilly) as she attempts to score her next fix. I was genuinely confused by this digression. Washington and Reilly split screen time during the opening scenes and fate will bring them together in the hospital. For the remainder of the movie, Reilly actively tries to rebuild her world while Washington struggles mightily to maintain the illusion of his normality. As the consequences of his addiction rise before him, Washington continues to back pedal. As a trial looms, will Washington pull it together? Will he ever be honest with himself?
At the center of "Flight" is a handful of strong and interesting performances. Without a doubt, this is one of Washington's finest roles. Even those that may not love the film itself would have to see the complexity, despair AND strength in this multi-layered character. But director Robert Zemekis (Oscar winner for the more fanciful Forrest Gump) has assembled a first rate cast to back up this bravura leading man. Don Cheadle displays a brash assuredness as Washington's attorney, Bruce Greenwood is earnest and supportive as an important ally, and John Goodman is over-the-top but effective as his drug hook-up. In smaller roles, Tamara Tunie, Nadine Velazquez, and Brian Geraghty all score pivotal moments as members of the flight crew on that fateful day. And then we have Reilly. The British actress is given an extremely meaty role as a ravaged soul fighting her way to salvation.
As an addiction drama, "Flight" is an in-your-face and provocative illustration of a man in denial. The movie also looks at faith in a way few studio films do. I appreciated that the movie (and its screenplay by John Gatins) doesn't shy away from complex issues. It is more thoughtful, more contemplative than you might initially be aware of. I'm not sure, in the end, that I believed some of the final moments and decisions. But in many ways, this was more about the journey than the destination. As long as you aren't expecting an action movie, "Flight" has a lot to recommend it. It isn't perfect, but this contemplative drama will give you a lot to think about. And it also boasts a slew of terrific performances. KGHarris, 12/12.