Monday, December 24, 2012

Movie Review: "Flight"

I'm not afraid of flying per se, but I do have a little bit of what I'll call flight-related anxiety. No matter how many times I get on a plane, there's always a tiny part of me that gets nervous about the plane making it safely to my final destination, which is why I always stop what I'm doing and listen to the flight attendant sharing important safety information, even if I know how to fasten and unfasten my seatbelt. Better safe than sorry, you know?

Well, after watching the first 30 minutes of Flight, I don't know how soon I'll be ready to get back on an airplane. Seriously, that was one of the most harrowing, pulse-pounding sequences I've ever seen.

Denzel Washington plays SouthJet airline pilot Whip Whitaker, a man born to fly but one whose demons should probably ground him. On what seems like a routine flight from Orlando to Atlanta one stormy morning, everything that could possibly go wrong with one plane does. But Whip takes control of his airplane as we've seen noted pilot heroes do in the past, and his actions ensure the plane crashes into an open field rather than a heavily populated area.

The thing is, though, the fact that the plane suffers malfunction after malfunction, and that Whip's steady control saved many lives, takes a back seat the more NTSB investigators start digging. They uncover that all is not what it seems with our hero pilot. This doesn't sit well with Whip's old friend, Charlie (Bruce Greenwood), now with the pilot's union, or the union's dogged lawyer, Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), who want to protect Whip and make sure the blame is placed squarely where it belongs.

Along the way, Whip comes into contact with Nicole (Kelly Reilly, clearly filling in for Jessica Chastain), a recovering junkie who tries to help him fight his own battles. But Whip doesn't think he needs help, and becomes increasingly more defiant and angry, even in the face of possible career-ending scrutiny and continuing to damage his relationships with those he cares about.

Washington is at his best when he plays the stalwart tough guy with a whole lot of vulnerability, and both the fire and the weakness are on fine display in this role, which is likely to net him another Oscar nomination. John Goodman, who plays one of Whip's friends, looks like he came straight from a cast reunion of The Big Lebowski, while Reilly's performance was quite good, once I kept telling myself she wasn't Jessica Chastain. Brian Geraghty (The Hurt Locker) and Tamara Tunie (Law and Order: SVU), as the co-pilot and flight attendant who witness Whip's heroics firsthand, do quite well with their brief roles. But the movie really belongs to Washington.

Washington isn't the most sympathetic character, but you still find yourself completely drawn into his story. I even found myself hoping his character wouldn't do certain things, which means I had gotten fairly invested. The movie is a little heavy handed at times in its messaging and its exploration of matters of faith and God's plans, but in the end, Flight is a movie which takes you where you think you're going, and the journey along the way is worth it.

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