Flight


Flight

It rains on the just and the unjust equally.

(2012) Drama (Paramount) Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly,  Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman, Brian Geraghty, Melissa Leo, Tamara Tunie, Nadine Velazquez, Charlie E. Schmidt, Peter Gerety, Boni Yanagisawa, Garcelle Beauvais, Justin Martin, Rhoda Griffis. Directed by Robert Zemeckis

 

We take flying for granted. You are far more likely to be killed in a car wreck than you are in the friendly skies. We trust our pilots to be sharp and skilled, highly trained to handle any situation and get us to our destination in one piece.

Whip Whitaker (Washington) is such a pilot. He is cool calm and in command on the outside, his aviator shades and uniform inspiring confidence. He is piloting a short flight from Orlando to Atlanta. The weather is frightful; a severe storm making the take-off anything but routine. But that’s not the worst of it; mid-flight, the plane goes inexplicably into a nosedive and nothing the crew can do can pull them out. Whitaker pulls off an incredible maneuver involving lying the plane upside down and manages to set down in a field. There is loss of life (four passengers and two crew die in the incident) but compared to what might have happened the landing was nothing short of miraculous.

Whip wakes up in the hospital barely remembering what happened. He’s being hailed as a hero and the press is in a frenzy, eager to get an interview with him. His good friend Charlie Anderson (Greenwood), a fellow pilot and head of the pilot’s union, flies to Atlanta to navigate him through the NTSB and other procedures that occur after a crash with fatalities.

Then everything falls apart. It turns out that the blood drawn from him routinely after the crash showed that he had alcohol and cocaine in his system. Which, in fact, he did – the night before the crash he had partied all night with a sexy stewardess (Velazquez) who had somewhat conveniently been one of the fatalities. They’d drank like fish, snorted coke and had lots of sex. In fact, Whip had even mixed himself a little cocktail of orange juice and vodka during the fatal flight.

In fact Whip has quite a problem; he could face jail time and lawsuits. A lawyer is hired for him by the union, the whip-smart (couldn’t resist the pun) Hugh Lang (Cheadle) who is charged with getting Whip off the hook because should he be found liable, so would the airline that hired him which would effectively put it out of business and put a good many pilots in the unemployment line, which the union decidedly doesn’t want.

But Whip’s biggest problem is his own demons. He can’t seem to stop drinking, although he tells everyone around him he can quit on his own, no problem. He resents even the thought of being called an alcoholic and yet his binges seem to come at the worst possible times as if he himself is crashing far worse than the jet he had previously piloted.

His estranged wife (Beauvais) and son (Martin) want nothing to do with him, but all isn’t hopeless – he has taken up with the recovering addict Nicole (Reilly) who seems to be serious about her recovery. Maybe this hook-up which was a result of his own kindness might turn out to be his salvation. With an NTSB hearing which will determine his future approaching, Whip is most assuredly his own worst enemy.

Despite all appearances to the contrary, this isn’t a movie about a plane crash although the crash sequence, which lasts twelve minutes at the beginning of the movie, is flat-out amazing and horrifying at once – so much so that if you’re planning to travel by air anytime soon, you may want to hold off on seeing this until after you’ve fulfilled your travel plans.

What this really is about is addiction and as harrowing as the plane crash sequence is, the rest of the movie following Whip’s fall from grace is far more so. It really isn’t very easy to watch as Whip gulps down liquor as if it were Kool-Aid and he continues to deny that there is a problem.

Very few actors could pull this part off properly – we need to be repelled by Whip’s actions even as we are compelled by his compassion. Washington is so likable and charismatic that we root for him throughout even though his character’s self-destructive streak is so profound that deep down we know he’s going to let us down. I imagine it’s much the same living with an alcoholic in real life.

The supporting cast is pretty stellar as one. Reilly, an Irish accent, is pixie-like and has an odd vulnerability that is laced with gravitas. Cheadle, one of my favorite actors, comes through again as a competent professional who is nevertheless out of his depth with Whip and the frustration becomes very apparent soon. Goodman, as a party animal who is Whip’s supplier, is marvelous and Tunie as a stewardess is amazing.

But it is Denzel who steals the show and simply put, this is one of the best performances of his storied career. He has to be considered an early front-runner for the Best Actor Oscar race, and I almost guarantee that he’ll nab a nomination early next year. It would be a major miscarriage of justice if he did not.

There are plenty of movies that show the horrors of alcoholism but few have captured it this well. This might be a good primer for those who suspect someone they care about is an alcoholic, but for those who already know someone they love is this might be a little too close to home. Just fair warning.

REASONS TO GO: Nothing like what you think it’s going to be. Oscar-caliber performance from Denzel.

REASONS TO STAY: Those expecting an action film might be put off by the drama. May be too close to home for those who are alcoholics or have someone in the family who is.

FAMILY VALUES:  The depiction of alcohol and drug abuse is pretty graphic; so too is the crash scene that opens the film. There is also plenty of bad language, a good deal of sexuality and nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is only the second R-rated film Zemeckis has directed (the first was Used Cars in 1980.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/23/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 77% positive reviews. Metacritic: 76/100. The reviews are solidly strong.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Days of Wine and Roses

AIRPLANE LOVERS: A very realistic look inside the cockpit of a jetliner, and you get a real sense of what it’s like to fly a commercial airplane.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Mission to Mars

Passengers


Passengers

Anne Hathaway figures out that Columbia has buried her movie.

(Columbia) Anne Hathaway, Patrick Wilson, David Morse, Andre Braugher, Clea DuVall, Dianne Wiest, William B. Davis, Ryan Robbins, Don Thompson. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia

If we’re going to properly deal with life, we also must learn how to deal with death. Every so often, we experience an event in which death stares us right in the face. How we react to that can be a life-defining moment – or a life-destroying one.

Claire (Hathaway) is a grief counselor and budding psychiatrist who is assigned to work with the few survivors of a horrific commercial airline crash. Her group contains the suspicious and skeptical Shannon (DuVall), the paranoid Norman (Thompson) and the euphoric stockbroker Eric (Wilson) whose brush with death has turned him into a type “A” personality.

Soon, the passengers begin to assert that contrary to the official report (which blamed the crash on pilot error), there had been an explosion in the main cabin. Arkin (Morse), an airline executive, begins to lurk around Claire’s patients and sessions, and as the survivors begin to disappear one by one, Claire begins to suspect that a conspiracy is afoot.

When she reports her suspicions to her boss (Braugher), she is met with some skepticism but as the coincidences begin to mount, even he starts to admit there might be something to her fears. In the meantime, she has become more and more attracted to Eric who is encouraging her to cross ethical lines (or as she incorrectly puts it in the dialogue, unethical lines). Soon, Claire herself finds that she may be in danger of joining the list of victims of the crash.

This movie was shelved several times from the Sony release schedule, eventually receiving a modest and somewhat begrudging limited run with a minimum of publicity behind it. This is what is known as burying a film, and that’s just what happened to Passengers. Generally, that means the film is truly awful and the studio is only releasing it to make back a modicum of its cost; generally execs will view the buried film as a kind of tax write-off.

I was expecting the worst when I saw this and was surprised to find that it wasn’t truly bad. Hathaway is an engaging performer and even if there were a few wrong notes hit for her as a psychiatrist, she makes up for it by being sympathetic (other than the ethical violation thing) and interesting. While the subplot with her sister seemed a bit forced, still Hathaway is one of the better things in the movie.

The script definitely has a “Twilight Zone” feel to it and while I think they would have benefitted with the input of a Rod Serling or a Richard Matheson, director Garcia and writer Ronnie Christensen have managed to create a nice, unsettling atmosphere with some legitimate spine-tingling moments. Unfortunately, much of the good will is undone with the ending, which is borrowed from a recent classic and brings the movie screeching to a halt. It’s not so much the concept I had problems with but with the execution, which felt a little too close to the way the twist was revealed in the other movie I referred to.

This is one of those movies that is certainly flawed but has enough going for it to get a mild recommendation. Those who like those old TV shows like “The Outer Limits” and of course “The Twilight Zone” might get a kick out of this. Those who like Anne Hathaway will certainly enjoy this since she’s in virtually every scene. This isn’t a hidden gem so much as a hidden rhinestone; still, it is much better than I expected it to be.

WHY RENT THIS: Hathaway is becoming one of the most compelling actresses in Hollywood. Some seriously good moments in the thriller vein, especially if you’re a fan of “The Twilight Zone.”

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The “twist” ending has been done before and much better; savvy moviegoers will be able to suss it out pretty quickly.

FAMILY VALUES: A few decent scares and some sensuality make this suitable for older teens.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Eric tells Claire he’s a vice-president at the brokerage firm Kahane-Drake. Nathan Kahane and Joe Drake are the executive producers on the film.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A feature about the staging of the plane crash is relatively interesting, but most of the features are the usual standards.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Charlie Bartlett