Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Movies

'Flight' lands Denzel Washington's character in conflict

Steve Persall

Times Movie Critic

Hard to imagine that Robert Zemeckis' lack-of-character study Flight would be shown on airlines to entertain passengers. This story of an irresponsible, drug-addicted pilot steering a jet through a raging storm to a fatal crash landing would certainly have people sitting in upright positions.

Flight should have no problem thrilling moviegoers on the ground, though, with its unblinking view of chemical dependency and Denzel Washington's boldest, against-type performance since Training Day. This is a tightly wound production, Zemeckis' first live-action effort since Cast Away, and after a decade of admirably failing to make motion-capture animation the next big thing, one of his finest.

Washington plays Capt. "Whip" Whitaker, a pilot for a regional airline who's introduced while chasing a hangover with warm beer and cocaine, with a naked flight attendant collecting her clothes. Their flight from Orlando to Atlanta leaves in about an hour, and Whip is in no shape to command.

Soon after takeoff, the storm hits, a mechanical failure emerges, and instinctively Whip guides the jet with extreme maneuvers to a landing with only a handful of fatalities. It's a breathtaking sequence filmed by Zemeckis with brain-rattling intensity, suitable for a bang-up finish to any action movie with less on its mind.

Whip is hailed as a hero in the media but he knows blood tests will reveal his intoxication. His union chief (Bruce Greenwood) is bound by loyalty and contract to support Whip, hiring a slick attorney (Don Cheadle) to quash the blood tests. Nobody else could have done what Whip did to save most of his passengers and crew. Yet the circumstances raise a troubling question: Can someone be forgiven for illegal, unsavory actions simply because something heroic results?

The casting of Washington alone makes this a difficult question to answer. He's an actor with immediate audience rapport, a quality challenged from the film's opening frames by Whip's irresponsible actions. The more Washington teaches us about his character — Whip's easy dishonesty, misplaced sense of entitlement and refusal to be sober — the more we want him locked away. Then again, this is Denzel Washington, so do we?

Screenwriter John Gatins expands the conflict to the parallel story of Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a single mother and heroin addict Whip meets in a hospital after the crash. Their relationship is Days of Wine and Roses stuff, a dramatic ballet of co-dependency and the inevitability of one person wising up before the other. Reilly is marvelous as Nicole, an angel of mercy with broken wings offering a way out for someone not seeking it.

There are no easy solutions posed by Flight, as Zemeckis piles up reasons why Whip isn't worth saving. For his part, Washington is merciless in making Whip unappealing, and the film's most effective dramatic moments occur when he's letting down people who believe in him, including the audience. Flight winds up a bit pat and flat, in an inquiry hearing where little happens as it would in real life. But for two hours Flight is exhilarating drama, and a triumphant return to glory for both Zemeckis and Washington.

Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.

Comments
‘Incredibles 2’ just might be better than the original — and a cure to superhero fatigue

‘Incredibles 2’ just might be better than the original — and a cure to superhero fatigue

It’s been 14 years since the premiere of Brad Bird’s beloved animated superhero film The Incredibles, one of the mega-hit Pixar films that cemented its reputation for film humor and heart that would satisfy both parents and children. With cool mid-ce...
Published: 06/13/18
Why is Mister Rogers making adults cry decades later?

Why is Mister Rogers making adults cry decades later?

Neighborly block party comes to downtown Tampa.
Published: 06/12/18
 ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ about Mr. Rogers is much-needed emotional tonic for troubled times

‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’ about Mr. Rogers is much-needed emotional tonic for troubled times

If beloved children’s television show host Mr. Rogers were once a representation of all things milquetoast, in the summer of 2018, his message of love and tolerance is not only saintly, it’s radical. In the deftly crafted documentary Won’t You Be My ...
Published: 06/12/18
Yes, ‘Ocean’s 8’ is a heist movie, but it’s also an empowering, cheeky comedy

Yes, ‘Ocean’s 8’ is a heist movie, but it’s also an empowering, cheeky comedy

Most every successful heist movie, just like a heist itself, functions by obeying a well-defined formula.First comes the setup and backstory (typically involving the righting of a wrong, to lend the subsequent lawbreaking a veneer of moral justificat...
Published: 06/06/18
TMZ: Last surviving munchkin from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ dies at 98

TMZ: Last surviving munchkin from ‘The Wizard of Oz’ dies at 98

The last surviving munchkin in The Wizard of Oz has died.Jerry Maren, 98, died last week at a nursing home in San Diego, according to TMZ.The cause of death for the last surviving member of the famous Lollipop Guild, made famous in the 1939 classic, ...
Published: 06/06/18
‘Blind Side’ star is at Tampa Theatre for a screening this weekend

‘Blind Side’ star is at Tampa Theatre for a screening this weekend

BLIND SIDE: Summer Classic Movie SeriesAll summer long, Tampa Theatre is showing classic Hollywood movies. Sunday features not only a screening of 2009’s The Blind Side, but also actor Quinton Aaron, who played Big Mike in the film, for a Q&A. Based ...
Published: 06/06/18
In ‘Hereditary,’ Toni Collette reveals a sixth sense for icy terror

In ‘Hereditary,’ Toni Collette reveals a sixth sense for icy terror

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, as Tolstoy noted in a sentence so right, by the time you started arguing with it Anna Karenina was off and suffering.If Tolstoy got a look at Hereditary, he might’ve added: ...
Published: 06/06/18
Jodie Foster makes ‘Hotel Artemis’ first-class experience

Jodie Foster makes ‘Hotel Artemis’ first-class experience

Hotel Artemis is a shining example of how it isn’t the amount of money spent to make a movie, but how the budget is being spent. Director/writer Drew Pearce has managed to take the money that would be the cape-pressing budget for most superhero movie...
Published: 06/06/18
Summer movie guide: All the superheroes, sequels and quirky comedies to see

Summer movie guide: All the superheroes, sequels and quirky comedies to see

Summer started early this year in Hollywood with the record-breaking release of Avengers: Infinity War, and the marquee Marvel superheroes couldn’t have come at a better time. The box office for the year is down nearly 3 percent, and the industry is ...
Updated one month ago
How Ybor City parties inspired the sets of Avengers: Infinity War

How Ybor City parties inspired the sets of Avengers: Infinity War

Thanos has nothing on Plant City native Charlotte Lee.For the Avengers: Infinity War baddie to alter the perception of his surroundings, he needed a Reality Stone, which, according to the Marvel movie’s lore, was a remnant of one of six singularities...
Updated one month ago