At the sneak preview I attended Monday night, Flight received a healthy amount of applause at its conclusion, and filmgoers praised the drama to studio reps in the lobby. On the movie review web site Rotten Tomatoes, the production has received 88% positive reviews as of this writing. Clearly, a lot of people think highly of the film.
The story: Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a middle-age pilot with a great amount of skill and experience. In the opening scene, Whip lies in bed at 7 a.m. after a night of hard partying with beautiful flight attendant Katerina (Nadine Velazquez). He has a 9 a.m. flight, but no worries, he just does a little coke to get himself in gear. Onboard the plane, he furtively makes a screwdriver with one hand while holding an intercom with the other and coolly addressing passengers. Cool is the word for Whip Whitaker.
The weather is lousy and the take-off is beyond bumpy. Whip frightens his co-pilot (Brian Gerety) and rattles the passengers by gunning the plane through the clouds to find a non-turbulent spot. After accomplishing his task, he takes a nap, only to be awakening when a mechanical emergency throws the plane into a plunge. I won’t detail what happens — suffice to say Whip amazingly manages to save all but six of the souls on board.
But what about Whip’s soul? TV commentators hail him as a hero, but the blood tests at the hospital record the contraband in his system. Can the results be hidden from the authorities? Should they be? And what about Whip and his reckless behavior? Can he face the truth in time to save himself?
I appreciated Denzel Washington’s predictably strong performance along with the fine work by the rest of the cast. I was engrossed by the depiction of the airplane disaster at the beginning of the film and the intriguing hero/anti-hero set-up presented by writer John Gatins (Real Steel) and director Robert Zemeckis (Castaway, plus several motion-capture annoyances). Unfortunately, though the film flows more smoothly than most Zemeckis productions, the addiction storyline left me wanting.
I understand why a mainstream audience would get involved in the tale. Major movies with big movie stars don’t tackle addiction very often. But I see a lot of indie movies, where addiction stories are all too common. For something like this to work I need a new twist, or some major insight into the main character. But Denzel Washington is opaque, a trait that carries through to his characters. We learn next to nothing about Whip — he’s just another addict slogging through denial.
A cover-up plotline featuring Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle is morally vacant, but interesting. Kelly Reilly engages as an addict who gets romantically involved with Whip, while John Goodman contributes a big comic performance as Whip’s buddy/drug source that seems more appropriate to The Big Lebowski than an addiction drama.
Bottom line: If you haven’t seen many films about addiction, Flight may very well work for you. If you’re a veteran of the genre, however, beware, because as the story grinds on, it becomes more of a task than a treat.
The rest (capsules by Scott Shoger unless otherwise noted)
★ ★ ★ 1/2
Sprawling, ambitious, nearly three hour tale of the grand connections between people over time, based on the book of the same name. Six storylines over 500 years are intermixed, with Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Hugh Grant and others popping up in various incarnations playing a physically diverse set of characters. I enjoyed the clever editing and appreciated the putty nose theatricality of it all. Nice to see Andy and Lana Wachowski (The Matrix and its lousy sequels) back in action. To best enjoy the film, I suggest you just relax and let it flow over you. Don’t overthink, just enjoy. 163 minutes. - Ed Johnson-Ott
IU Cinema: Shirley Clarke
Dennis Doros of Milestone Films presents three films by Clarke, considered the most important female director in post-WWII America. All are rarely screened and difficult to find on video, as is much of Clarke's work; Doros is at work on ameliorating that situation, and will talk Nov. 2 about Milestone's restoration of Portrait of Jason, her 1967 documentary profile of a black male hustler. Nov. 1: The Connection (1962), about a group of addicts, musicians and filmmakers waiting in a NYC loft for a drug connection. Nov. 2: Ornette: Made in America (1985), a portrait of saxophonist Ornette Coleman; Robert Frost: A Lover's Quarrel with the World (1963), made just prior to Frost's death and incorporating footage from some of his last speaking engagements.
IU Cinema: Claire Denis
Over the next couple weeks, the IU Cinema will screen seven films by Claire Denis, one of the smartest filmmakers in the world, whose work engages substantially and often brilliantly with post-colonial issues. Nov. 4: Chocolat (1988), her debut feature, which drew on her childhood experiences in West Africa. Nov. 5: I Can't Sleep (1994), about a French murder case. Nov. 6: Nanette and Boni (1996), about a sister and brother from a broken home. Screenings continue through Nov. 11; Denis is scheduled to attend Nov. 11 and 12.
Wham! Bam! Islam!
A 2011 documentary about a Kuwaiti psychologist who has created a comic book featuring 99 characters representing the 99 virtues of Allah kicks off the IMA's New Cinema from the Middle East Series. Nov. 3, 1 p.m., in The Toby; $5 public, $3 members