May 18, 2013
Written by Mark Schumann, Father of Three
Tuesday, 06 November 2012 11:55
Each week, the Reel Dad checks the nutritional value of a movie — new or classic — to help families choose what to watch. This week’s pick is a new film starring Denzel Washington, Flight, that premiered at the New York Film Festival and opened at theaters on Nov. 2.
To be a hero isn’t always as easy as it looks in the movies. The sudden pressure of public attention can overwhelm, as well as the possible uncertainty of how events actually unfold. No matter how confident a hero may appear we may never know what is going on inside the head and heart.
The highly entertaining and moving Flight examines how a conflicted man reacts to becoming an instant hero. This airline pilot, who may or may not be in control when he takes the controls one day, manages to deftly handle an emergency. But the aftermath of his actions, and the demons that haunt him, threaten any personal satisfaction the situation could bring.
Whit Whitaker is a mess. He drinks too much, uses cocaine to rid himself of the effects of a hangover, and pushes his personal commitments to an uncomfortable edge. He is, as well, an airline pilot, a profession that requires lifestyle discipline. But Whitaker doesn’t believe that rules apply to him. He not only lives for the moment, he finds moments to live for when he should focus on getting his job done. But who can be restricted by the realities of flight when the opportunities for pleasure are so abundant?
On its surface, Flight would look like a conventional disaster film in the spirit of Airport or The Towering Inferno. But director Robert Zemeckis, who won an Oscar for Forrest Gump, and screenwriter John Gatins are too savvy to settle for that. Instead, with the strong assist of star Denzel Washington, they create a striking character study of how heroes can be haunted by everyday realities. What starts as an examination of an event quickly becomes an investigation of the soul. And in Washington’s strong hands, Flight emerges as a fascinating look at how a man’s demons can define his destiny.
Zemeckis, directing his first live-action film in several years, opens the film with a brilliantly conceived sequence of the airliner in distress. Using every visual skill in his command, the director beautifully builds the tension of the situation without permitting the action to exaggerate. He perfectly paces the opening to reveal the character as well as frame the action. And he effectively suggests that there’s more to this story than immediately meets the eye.
We soon discover what else the director and his screenwriter have planned. Gatins’ script is a study in effective character development as he slowly peels away the layers of Whitaker’s persona. Without resorting to standard film cliché, Gatins carefully dissects this tormented soul to discover the origins of the issues that continue to haunt. He turns what could have been an entertaining, but superficial, thriller into a compelling examination of self-destructive behavior.
For Denzel Washington, Flight offers the opportunity to deliver one of his most exciting performances. This gifted actor, who can soar when he takes flight, but crash land when working with substandard material, makes us believe every view of Whitaker from the happy-go-lucky party guy to the driven and able pilot to the frightened victim of his life. Washington emerges as vulnerable as he has appeared on screen in an ideal marriage of man and material. Look for him to be a strong contender for this year’s Best Actor awards.
Flight, which premiered at the prestigious New York Film Festival, delivers a complete movie experience. From thrilling opening to touching closing, the movie reminds us that to become a hero may be a happy accident but living with heroism brings few opportunities to escape.
* Content: High. Following a thrilling opening sequence, Flight becomes a gripping character study of a tormented hero.
* Entertainment: High. Even when the film changes direction it never loses its grip on the potential entertainment of its characters and situations.
* Message: High. No matter how heroic someone may appear, we never know what issues thrive beneath the character’s surface.
* Relevance: High. Any opportunity to explore the realities of personal issues is relevant to a world where heroism is not as simple as it may appear.
* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. Despite the maturity of the subject matter, Flight can open a meaningful conversation with teenaged children.
(Flight is rated R for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence. The film runs 138 minutes.)
4-1/2 Popcorn Buckets
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