The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Enjoy

November 9, 2012

Benji Tunnell: Washington does best to keep 'Flight' airborne

JOPLIN, Mo. — Robert Zemeckis makes his return to live action filmmaking after a decade-long foray into making animated films featuring dead-eyed characters in soulless adaptations of books that didn't necessarily need adapting.

Given that he is the director behind such classics as the "Back to the Future" trilogy, "Forrest Gump" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", it was good to see him get back to live action. Throw in one of the last true bankable movie stars in Denzel Washington, and there's plenty to get excited about with "Flight."

Washington plays Whip Whitaker, a defeated man who has failed as a husband, as a father, as a lover and as a man. He has succumbed to the demons of alcohol and drugs, but he doesn't let his afflictions alter his career path as a commercial airline pilot.

One day, after staying up all night drinking and "entertaining" a flight attendant, Whip goes in for a routine short flight. In order to get into flying shape, he does a couple of lines of cocaine to counteract the effects of the alcohol, then heads in to work.

The flight experiences quite a bit of turbulence, so Whip pushes the plane to a sliver of undisturbed sky. Everything seems routine after that, until the plane goes into a dive, forcing Whip to do some unorthodox maneuvering to bring the plane to flat ground and glide in for a crash landing.

Though six on board are killed in the crash, Whip is hailed as a hero for doing what no other pilot could have accomplished: landing a plane with no power and not killing everyone on board. All looks good until the blood results come back, showing the high alcohol and cocaine content in Whip's system Ñ crimes that, coupled with the deaths on the plane, could result in a life sentence.

Whip's union representative (Bruce Greenwood) decides that a coverup is in order, so he calls in the only person more detestable than a union rep Ñ a union lawyer (Don Cheadle). The lawyer commences to get Whip's blood test results thrown out on technicalities. It is then up to Whip to stay clean and sober until an inquiry into the reasons behind the crash can be concluded.

There are two things that work well in "Flight." The first is the plane crash, a harrowing and intense sequence that will do more for Greyhound's business than a year's worth of advertising. Zemeckis knows how to stage an action scene, and it is a white-knuckle experience.

The other positive of the film is Washington himself. I've long held that Washington can make a mediocre film good, that his mere presence in a movie can elevate it to something close to exceptional. Unfortunately, in this instance, he is asked to do a little too much and cannot overcome the weakness of the script or the overreliance on the obvious.

I remember Zemeckis having a more subtle touch. Perhaps too many years of working with actors converted into ones and zeros has dulled his skills. But Zemeckis sacrifices any hint of subtlety, apparently feeling the viewer might be too dumb to catch on to the subtext, and thus it must be blatant.

For example, in the opening scene, right before Whip downs the remains of the previous night's beer, his clock radio goes off, playing the Barenaked Ladies' "Alcohol." Now, even if this was 1998, "Alcohol" wasn't getting too much radio play. And given that it is 14 years past the peak of the Ladies' popularity, I have a hard time believing that they'd be getting much radio play at all, and if so, it'd be with some of their more popular hits. But for some reason Zemeckis feels that we need this song to cue us in that Whip might have a problem with booze.

The theme of faith is set up early in the movie. Many survivors believe that it must have been God's will that they were spared, and that Whip was put in the cockpit to bring them to safety. It allowed for what could have been an interesting examination of faith in a man who puts faith in no one and nothing.

Instead, it is used as an excuse by a lazy screenwriter to clumsily introduce a series of ludicrous storylines, including those of an addict/love interest, easy access to booze before a hearing and a drug deal.

And this isn't even the most ludicrous part. The hearing falls into a clumsily set up but highly predictable pattern, allowing for emotional catharsis for the character but disgust and annoyance for the audience.

The first two thirds of the film showed a very damaged and self-destructive man coming to terms with his second chance and a hero worship that he doesn't feel he deserves. The last third is a contrived and unearned bow used to try to redeem a man who is ultimately irredeemable.

Washington does yeoman's work in delivering such a sympathetic performance for such an unsympathetic character. He convincingly portrays a heavily conflicted man who cannot admit that he needs help, but so desperately does.

He almost saves the film, holding it up for as long as he can before it finally tips over into the land of melodrama and hokiness. And for that he deserves a lot of credit. It's just a shame that he wasn't given better material to work with.

1
Text Only
Enjoy
  • Wichita.jpg Going Western: Indie film 'Wichita' to show tonight at MSSU

    Nicholas Burton isn't exactly raising a cash cow on his livestock ranch. But the Wichita, Kan.-based filmmaker has an advantage over other film producers: Westerns are in high demand, and he's in the perfect spot to make them.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • 041114_pajama game.jpg Love, labor liven up JHS musical 'Pajama Game'

    The spring musical put on by the Joplin High School Theatre Department deals with a labor of love among a labor dispute.

    April 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • MSSU choir, orchestra combines for performance of legendary 'Carmina Burana'

    The free performance is a joint effort between the Southern Symphonic Chorus, which is composed of the MSSU Concert Chorale and volunteer singers, and the orchestra, which is made up of Missouri Southern students, faculty and professionals from the community.

    April 11, 2014

  • 1520face.JPG Globe Phone Test: Nokia Lumia 1520's outstanding camera offset by frustrating OS

    On Monday, news broke that flight attendants aboard Delta Airlines flights would receive Nokia Lumia 1520 devices in October. The devices will have flight manuals, support on-board sales, allow attendants to process credit card payments and crapcan heavy 500-page manuals they used have to bring.

    The move is similar to how American Airlines attendants were give Galaxy Note phablets. Because Delta already gave attendants similar smartphones, it's reasonable to assume that the company places a lot of faith in the Windows Phone system.

    But Delta's choice of device is puzzling because the 1520 is better suited to take photos and videos of people on board an airplane, not take their drink and meal orders. And because the device is so big, I'm not sure how flight attendants would feel carrying it around in a cramped flight.

     

    As the iOS and Android systems struggle for the top smartphone operating system, Microsoft's Windows Phone has scratched its way into the No. 3 spot, pushing past BlackBerry. Nokia, once one of the top names in devices, is pairing with Microsoft to make a device that features an incredible camera. The company already made the Lumia 1020, which features a humongous 41-megapixel camera that does amazing things.

    The Lumia 1520 is its biggest offering to date. The device, available exclusively from AT&T, is one of the biggest phablet-style phones on the market today. For about 10 days, I tested out a black-colored device provided by AT&T.



     

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jermiah-Tucker-020812.jpg Jeremiah Tucker: Kurt Cobain likely would have thrived in today's music scene

    I have no memory of the day he died. A friend asked me about this recently, and I said at that age -- I would've been 13 -- I was probably still rocking my cassingle of the Escape Club's "Wild Wild West." Needless to say, my middle school years were rough.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • images_sizedimage_108172906 Benji Tunnell: 'Winter Soldier' sets a high bar for summer movie season

    If a film was truly great, it would be held until June or July. Or so the thinking might have been before the release last week of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Marta-mug.jpg Marta Churchwell: Joplin mural part of Benton's larger message

    Recently, I received information on Joplin's celebration of one of its native sons, Thomas Hart Benton. In observance of the artist's 125th birthday, City Hall will host a collection of his works alongside his mural that honors Joplin history.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • 040814 Worldfest.jpg World Fest pairs well with Celebrate America

    The Slinkerds think Silver Dollar City's World Fest is a great opportunity to show their young children other cultures and introduce them to people from around the world.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ka-Pow! New attraction offers free-fall plunge

    On May 17, two brave souls willing to whether mid-May¹s unpredictable weather will climb into the two drop-floor aqua-launch capsules atop KaPau Plummet.

    April 11, 2014 1 Slideshow

  • Jermiah-Tucker-020812.jpg Jeremiah Tucker: Letterman performance gives deserved boost to Future Islands

    It's hard to believe an appearance on a late-night talk show can still make a band's career. It's such a common occurrence and the cultural currency of the late-night format has dropped so much in recent years that, short of literally setting the stage ablaze or stabbing the host, the most a band could hope for is a couple of polite blog notices.

    April 6, 2014 1 Photo

Facebook
Poll

In an effort to curb prostitution, St. Louis police are targeting, and perhaps humiliating, the "johns" who use the services. Postcards mailed to the homes of those charged with trying to pick up prostitutes will offer a reminder about spreading sexually transmitted diseases, along with listing the court date. Do you think this is a good approach?

A. Yes.
N. No.
     View Results
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
NDN Video
Raw: Ferry Sinks Off South Korean Coast Town, Victims Remember Texas Blast Freeze Leaves Florida Panhandle With Dead Trees At Boston Marathon, a Chance to Finally Finish Are School Dress Codes Too Strict? Raw: Fatal Ferry Boat Accident Suspicious Bags Found Near Marathon Finish Line Boston Marks the 1st Anniversary of Bombing NYPD Ends Muslim Surveillance Program 8-year-old Boy Gets His Wish: Fly Like Iron Man Sex Offenders Arrested in Slayings of CA Women India's Transgenders Celebrate Historic Ruling Tributes Mark Boston Bombing Anniversary Raw: Kan. Shooting Suspect Faces Judge