So here is a bird of a different feather, as far as popular movies go these days. Oh MAN, I hit you with a pun on the first SENTENCE this time, see what I did there? I didn’t even plan that out! Get it, Flight, birds? GOD I am clever. I will tell you right off the bat that this movie was almost 100% NOT what I expected it to be. In a (mostly) good way here, so it’s ok. But, wow. Robert Zemeckis WAS a good director, I guess – he’s mostly known for Forrest Gump, a movie I do NOT like and find to be highly overrated – and also for Cast Away (you know, that one with the beach ball named Tom Hanks, or Wilson or Spalding or something), but he sort of lost his mind and went out to lunch for this new millenium, and directed not one, not two, but THREE computer animated movies, that all pretty much sucked. Two of em were about Christmas, because yeah, god knows we need more of THOSE movies. So yeah, he lost his mind and must have really, REALLY liked watching fancy animated pictures move for the first ten years of the 2000s. With Flight, he decided to come back to reality, and hoo man, did he ever do it with a VENGEANCE.
Let’s start this right off, real propa like – this movie is NOT for the kids. Leave em at home, even if your ten year old has a crush on Denzel Washington because of…wait, does he even play in any movies that are for kids? Oh yeah, Remember the Titans! Or that one where kids debated that I never watched because, well, it was about a debate team. Well anyways, if one of your kiddies has a crush on Denzel Washington because well, he’s freaking Denzel Washington, arguably (and I’m willing to argue with anyone who wants to about this) our best living actor, tell em to wait a few years. This one has it all – a completely naked woman within the first five minutes, a fair bit of coke snortin’, lots of boozin’, and generally just bad behavior. He even befriends a junkie girl in the hospital, it really has it all except for people’s head’s getting chopped off…so that’s something at least. But seriously, this movie is a very hard R, and that frankly surprised me. This movie came out left field for me, maybe just because I was used to Zemeckis making essentially kiddy fare, or just because he simply wasn’t capable of making something this…deep? Yeah, thats cliche, but seriously, this movie IS man, it just IS.
There, that’s his junkie pal right there, played by the excellent Kelly Reilly, who proves that she is far better than the mostly unknown movies and tv shows she was cast in before this movie. She’s great, she doesn’t steal the show from Denzel, because jesus, who ever could? But she plays a great addition, a kindred soul if you will, someone just as damaged as Washington’s character is, except in a different way is all. This movie shows that there are all kinds of ways to fall in life, and sometimes you can even do it and convince everyone – even yourself – that you are a hero still. An impressive feat for anyone to pull off, and an an incredibly difficult task for an actor to try and make us buy into on screen – but guess what, no surprise here, Denzel nails the performance. I’m not sure if this is THE best performance of the year, I’ll give you the final verdict after I see Lincoln, The Sessions and a couple others by the end of the year – but no matter what, this is another Oscar nod for Washington at the least. It’s truly incredible what he pulls off here.
So I’m sure you are yelling by now, but dude, what the hell is it ABOUT man, WHY does he nail such a good performance?! To which I say, keep your pants on, I’m getting to it. So Washington plays Whip Whitaker, who even has a hero’s name, and he is basically the standard issue veteran pilot who has SEEN SOME s*** man, SEEN SOME S***. He gets on his plane, a little high, a little drunk from having a late night being adults session with the flight attendant on his crew, Katerina (played by the underutilized Nadine Valazquez) but hey, thats nbd he’s done this drunk and high a hundred times before, maybe even a thousand. Well, as the previews will tell you, things up in the air hit a bit of a, bit of a snag if you will, perhaps one could call it a kerfuffle of sorts. Smidge a trouble. And in an absolutely terrifying, riveting, make-you-nervous scene, up there with the best that Argo threw you at you, he somehow manages to land it in a field, and only a couple people die. No one else could have done that. Don Cheadle’s lawyer character even tells him (and us) so later in the movie. So, he’s a hero, right? The movie is about him getting all the fame and accolade and being awesome and things are all hunky dory for him, right? Of course not. He’s a drunk, and a pretty bad one. They find two bottles of vodka in the trash can, and there wasn’t any booze served on the flight, could have only been him or one of the crew. He’s facing losing his license, never flying again, jailtime, the whole nine yards.
So what does someone with his track record do? Well, disappear of course. Get away from society, much like he has done most of his life through drink anyways. Certainly used it to get away from his wife and kid, not to mention most of his friends, including someone he used to fly with in the military, played by Bruce Greenwood. Who really WANTS to like Whip, but damn if he doesn’t make it difficult for EVERYONE. This is why this movie impressed, and was also NOT what I expected – Whip is not a likeable guy. Like, really at all. You want to like him, I guess, but I’m not ashamed to say I never really did. And that’s the true brilliance of this movie, as well as a testament to Washington’s acting chops – he can play an incredibly unlikeable character, a bad guy even, and yet, you still love the movie. Of course to anyone that follows Washington’s career (and you SHOULD be, if you aren’t) this will remind you of Training Day, he won an Oscar for that one after all. My personal favorite, and the one I feel he should have won an Oscar for is Man on Fire, but I realize I’m more in the minority there and that that one is more of a guilty pleasure than an actual excellent movie like this or Training Day is. But rest assured this IS an excellent movie.
I’m not going to elaborate much more, I don’t think I need to, because like I said from the start with my awesome awesome pun, this movie is a different fig, it is not what you expect, it will sort of pull the rug out from under you. Particularly some of the ending scenes, the last 20 minutes or so, you may even have your jaw open in disbelief. I have to mention the always wonderful and always scene-stealing John Goodman here, because man, they should just hand that guy Oscars every year for best supporting actor. Just like in Argo, he steals every scene he is in this movie too. Just put him in every movie as a goofy sidekick or the comic relief and you’ve probably got yourself a fine movie, he’s that good. I suppose he is perhaps the greatest supporting actor to contrast with Washington being the greatest lead actor. He plays a part in the incredible last scenes, ones that in a lesser movie, you’d be tempted to get up and leave because it borders on the preposterous. But with this one, you want to stick around, because dammit it all, you want this guy to be good…right? I won’t ruin anything for you of course, but I will tell you that the ending coincides with what you will probably expect with this movie after your two hour ride is over. And what a ride it is…a FLIGHT if you will! Oh SNAP, ended with a pun too! But in all seriousness, the title of this movie applies to MUCH more than just flying, although it’s flying in a different way…ok, I’ll stop being cryptic and give you the verdict, which is that, this isn’t the best movie of the year, but damn if it doesn’t have one of the best, if not THE best, performances of the year.