According to the commercials for the film Flight, critics are applauding it. Even the usually inspirational New York Film Festival made it the Closing Night feature which made me more excited for it. Denzel’s even got the cover of The Hollywood Reporter. But sadly, and oddly, this is the weakest work I’ve seen from both Denzel Washington and Robert Zemeckis in a long time.

Denzel floats through this movie, pulling the usual Denzel overbite smiles and scowls, but never able to create a lead character as anything more than a two-dimensional representation of a pilot with a drug and alcohol addiction.  The fact that there could even be people like this character out there flying our planes and entrusted with the safety of millions of people, is enough to make you really want to have some insight into this character – it’s the scariest thing about watching this movie, actually. But there’s nothing in this story a viewer can hold onto or even leave the theater thinking about later. This is film better suited to be a cable TV movie. It’s flat.

Some scenes are even (maybe purposefully) laughable. In one, we see Denzel supposedly so hammered on booze he can’t even speak, much less stand up. In another, we see a woman shooting coke to the point of overdose , being rolled out on a stretcher, and then next time we see her in the story she is officially clean. It’s preposterous. If Zemeckis thinks this is what a drug-addled life is like, and what drug-use plays out like in the most terrible of addicts, he’s spent a way too sheltered life. I mean he could have at least done some research; hell, watched Requiem for a Dream, Leaving Las Vegas, anything.

Denzel is a great actor when given the right director (Ed Zwick, Tony Scott, Antoine Fuqua) and this role in Flight was perfect for him. The Hollywood Reporter article even talks about how he prepared for it and his level of interest and discipline in preparing for the role. So, it’s infuriating for me to have to watch him reprise his single tear territory from the Glory days because Zemeckis can’t man up and put his actor in the grit or at least get the thing to be more well-rounded. Zemeckis is better suited to his standard PG-13 fare acceptable for all his caucasian Christian audiences to devour and tout and play for their kids during the holiday school breaks. I’m surprised he didn’t put Tom Hanks in this role. I mean really, why did it even have to be a black pilot who does these such despicable things? Plus, at least we know Zemeckis is capable of getting something tangible out of Hanks.

Denzel too easily becomes typecast to this kind of character (the flawed hero), but he also shines when give the right motivation (e.g. Training Day, Man on Fire), so why couldn’t Zemeckis pull this off like those directors did? And why is no one else seeing the atrocity of this film as I see it?!

Literally everything is wrong in the picture except parts of the flight crash sequence. There’s an odd, hard to read, badly played out few scenes with the co-pilot (before, during and after the crash). The scene after, in the hospital, we get the chance to meet his wife who Zemeckis decided to make an over zealous, cartoonish representation of a devout Christian. It was just ill-fitting in the movie. What is he trying to say? Why all the references to religion in the movie? How convenient and odd is it for the plane to coincidentally crash directly over the congregation of a cultish-like church? It’s like some M. Night concept that was abandoned by him and picked up by Zemeckis, but then never followed through upon.

Don Cheadle is a cold, heartless lawyer for the pilot’s union, of course. John Goodman is there for comic-relief I suppose, although he’s anything but funny (unlike usual). Instead he plays a Beach Boy-styled drug dealer. Again, ill-fitting to the story at hand. If this tells you anything, I actually liked Goodman better in the bit part he had in Coyote Ugly – and that was the last time I didn’t care for a film he was in.

Flight is completely void of any character development to the naked eye. In fact, any development that does happen, apparently happens off-screen and we’re just supposed to be OK with that. If I wanted somebody to tell me a story concisely, I’d just ask the guy at work next to me to tell me how the film was – a movie is supposed to envelop you and make you part of the lives inhabiting the screen. Flight, seems to only care about showing Denzel’s ass and how he can’t stop drinking, but it’s apparently acceptable, because all the alcohol in his system enabled him to think “clearly” during the life or death situation of the film, so that he could pull off a miraculous stunt like inverting a jetliner so that it glides to a softer impact. Right.

Flight tries to be too many things, dealing with religion, the existence of a higher power watching over us, drug use, corporate coldness and union deceitfulness (?), oh and romance, of course. Flight tries so hard, but never actually even gets off the ground.


Ace In The Hole

People always say that there are classic films which, when viewed now, seem ahead of their time. Billy Wilder’s Ace In The Hole is one of those films.

A relatively dark turn for Wilder (Some Like It Hot, Sunset Boulevard), the film stars a snake-in-the-grass Kirk Douglas as Chuck Tatum, a newspaper man who is looking for the chance to blow the place he’s currently trapped in: Albuquerque, New Mexico. He’s got a penchant for getting back to New York, to his old desk where he was fired from after a libel suit, and after spending a year at a small town newspaper where “telling the truth” is the motto they live by, he seizes an opportunity to make the headlines once more.

This opportunity is all thanks to the greedy Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) who, while digging in an Indian burial tomb for riches, suffers a cave-in which partially buries him alive. Leo, of simple mind, seems to believe this freak occurrence is because of his persistent meddling with and stealing of dead Native Americans burial artifacts. But ghosts are the least of his worries when Tatum rolls up on the scene. Tatum sees this as an opportunity to make the headlines, and he does just that by sewing up the story to give himself exclusivity and at the same time putting Leo’s life on the back burner to prolong the emergent situation and help foster a national media circus for his own gain.

And a circus is exactly what it soon becomes, as the spectators arrive in droves and Indian burial grounds admission goes from free, to $.25, to $.50, to $.75, to a dollar. Soon, there’s literally a carnival on site as well as people camping out, radio reporters, hot dogs, pop corn and a special train line diverted just for the event.

The film, which apparently fared better overseas than it did in the States, was later retitled as “The Big Circus.” (Too kitschy a title, but obviously apropos.) For me, (and Spike Lee), the best part of this hard-boiled film which is set mainly in desert daylight, is the final shot in which Tatum crashes to the ground dead – open eyeball mere inches from the camera lens it seems. Lee mentions in an afterword on the Criterion disc, that he was obviously inspired by this scene when shooting Malcolm X where Denzel Washington pulls off a similar celluloid feat.

Anyway, now that I’ve given it away, yes, Tatum dies at the end of the film. Actually, pretty much everyone dies at the end of the film, if you are counting the two main actors. Tatum having not realized it, facilitates the slow, maddening death of his subject/martyr/muse Leo. Leo’s wife played by Jan Sterling could care less in all of this, having tried to get away as soon as she found out her husband would be unable to chase her down for the first time ever.

She ends up not getting the jump on Leo after all, when Tatum convinces her to stay and reap the benefits of the steadily increasing spectator revenue. She also acts though as a sort of conscience for Tatum, who appears oddly conflicted about her dislike for the trapped Leo, and her obvious growing attraction towards himself. He masks his hatred for her coldness though (in the need for her to play the part of the devastated wife and keep the charade alive), but secretly I believe hates her for all the same reasons he hates himself – his unscrupulousness and ability to essentially kill for his own gain without (immediate) remorse.

Throw in the addition of a corrupt small town, rattlesnake-loving, Sheriff looking for re-election, some all-to-obvious 1950s American gluttony and you got yourself a really smart, incisive, dramatic picture which in concept still very much is relevant today, but in plausibility seems a little heavy-handed and even dated.