Saturday, December 1, 2012
But, anyway... I liked it. It was a pretty darn good movie.
It wasn't the movie I thought it would be, however, and that's a comment I've heard from many people who've seen it. I thought it would be some kind of mystery or procedural film about an investigation following a plane crash...and it was, but only kind of. It was also a character study about a man dealing with -- and admitted that he suffers from -- alcoholism. That's not a complaint about the film nor is it a complaint about how it was marketed, since this is such a complicated, multi-layered film I would've been stumped as to how to market it as well. It was just a little more emotionally gripping than I was expecting, but that's not a bad thing. In fact, it might even be a good thing.
Denzel Washington plays an airline pilot named Whip Whitaker, who aside from having the coolest name in movie history (except for maybe Snake Pliskin), is a raging alcoholic who would put the combined drinking power of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jackie Gleason, and Danny Thomas to shame. Seriously... this guy drinks, and then in order to clear his head in the morning (so he can, you know, fly a plane), he does a couple lines of cocaine. Our film begins on one of these days, but unfortunately it ends with a crash that is totally the fault of the plane itself, and it is only his exceptional skill as a pilot and heroic conviction as a captain that gets the plane on the ground in one piece with almost all the souls on board safe and sound. Whip is rightly praised as a hero, but once his toxicology report comes to light and people see that his system was riddled with alcohol and cocaine, his life is turned upside down and he is faced with the prospect of facing criminal charges.
Now, that's a great setup for a story, but if anything it's almost too great a set up because from their it became clear that the writer didn't really know where to go with it, turning it into a kind of cliched character study of a man coming to terms with his alcoholism. I don't mean to downplay the power of that kind of story, but the film only really felt exciting and fresh during the scenes involving the plane crash and the resulting inquiry, investigation, and trial. All the stuff where Whip got drunk and then felt bad were, frankly, boring and occasionally trite. And the less said about the parallel storyline about the recovering heroine addict the better.
However, it's still a great movie if only because of the power house performance by the always exceptional Denzel Washington and the sure-handed work behind the camera by Robert Zemeckis, a director who had been working exclusively in animation for the past decade and finally made his return to live-action film making here. Denzel Washington is one of the dozen or so best actors in the history of film (no joke!), and this is one of the best performances he's ever done, which makes it one of the best performances of all time by anybody ever. It's a truly exceptional, bravura performance that lets him act like a hero in one sequence and a total asshole two scenes later. And Robert Zemeckis just knocked it out of the park, proving once again that very few directors understand how to direct a scene like he does. Seriously, this film is worth seeing in the theater for the crash scene alone, which ranks high on my list of the best scenes in film history. Just the moment where Whip told one of the flight attendants to tell her son she loves him so it would be recorded by the black box recorder has me misty just thinking about it.
And then the rest of the cast is just awesome. Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle play a union rep and a lawyer who do their best to get Whip cleared off all charges, even though they clearly hate him for what he did and themselves for how they're forced to defend him. Every scene with either of these two actors are great. But best of all was John Goodman as Whip's drug dealer. He only has three, very short scenes, but they are hands down the best moments in the film and Goodman should get an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor. I seriously can't remember being more entertained than I was watching him in this movie.
So... I guess I recommend it.