“Flight” of Fancy

Before I get going, let me warn you that if you want to go into the Denzel Washington movie “Flight” blissfully unaware about the general gist of what the movie is about, you should stop reading. If you want to believe the movie bears resemblance to the previews, this is not the tumblr post for you.

In other words, SPOILER ALERT.

When I taught Public Speaking at Indiana University, I used to show the following video to get the point across to my students that introductions are incredibly important, as they set the scene for your entire speech.  This is a fake trailer for the horror movie, “The Shining”:

If you haven’t seen “The Shining”, please disregard what you just watched. If you have seen “The Shining”, I hope you found this as amusing as I did.  My students typically enjoyed it and it drove the point home well, especially because there were always one or two kids with no frame of reference for the film who were shocked to hear it is actually one of the scarier and creepier movies ever made.

Recently, I went to see “Flight” because I am generally a fan of director Robert Zemekis and because the 30 second trailers I saw on TV piqued my interest. It looked like a film about a mysterious plane crash, the ensuing investigation, and a man who may not be what he seems.  The blurb about it on Google Movies added to my enthusiasm about the film:

Whip Whitaker, a seasoned airline pilot, miraculously crash lands his plane after a mid-air catastrophe, saving nearly every soul on board. After the crash, Whip is hailed as a hero, but as more is learned, more questions than answers arise as to who or what was really at fault and what really happened on that plane?”

I guess, on some level, that is what this movie is about.  In reality though, this is your standard movie about an alcoholic’s descent to rock bottom with a plane crash serving as the inciting incident.  The crash itself is relatively irrelevant.  This is 90 minutes of Denzel Washington’s character, pilot Whip Whitaker, dealing with his alcoholism and drug addiction.

In other words, this is “The Lost Weekend”, “Days of Wine and Roses”, “When a Man Loves a Woman”, “The Man With the Golden Arm”, and “Leaving Las Vegas”.  In particular, it remings me of Billy Wilder’s “The Lost Weekend”. Most of the movie is Washington by himself, struggling with his desire to drink. There is no mystery to solve, within 20 minutes everything is exactly as you would expect it would be.

That doesn’t make “Flight” a bad movie.  It isn’t great in my opinion, as it treads over all the familiar tropes of these previous films, adding very little save for the question of if Washington’s behavior can be excused in this instance since he managed to save a plane full of people from what should have been a crash that killed everyone on board.

It is interesting question, I suppose, but it doesn’t make this otherwise run of the mill flick rise to exceptional status in my book.  I will say that Washington’s performance is exceptional.  This is Oscar bait and the Academy should predictably  bite and award him with a well-deserved Best Actor nomination.  But Best Picture? I certainly hope better flicks than this will come along this winter.  

I don’t know who came up with the marketing plan for “Flight” that makes the crash seem like the centerpiece of the film, but I think they could stand to hear my lecture to my students on introductions.  This movie was not terrible, but because this flick and I got on the wrong foot with this misleading introduction, it left a more sour taste in my mouth than it would otherwise.  This movie went from B- to C for me because the experience was so marred by my expectations.

This isn’t the first time. Remember “The Family Stone”? Let me refresh your memory:

Looks funny, right? It kind of is at first. Until the major storyline involving one of the characters having terminal cancer comes into play.  As someone who lost a parent to cancer, I kind of like to know when I am going to stumble face first into a movie about it so I can mentally prepare.  I would think people with drug and alcohol problems or friends or family with drug and alcohol problems would want a similar warning before Flight. So that is what I am doing, giving you the heads-up. If you want to see a kind of depressing movie about a pilot with an alcohol problem with some great performances from Washington and others, go for it, I think you’ll like it.

If you want to watch something about a mysterious plane crash, this isn’t the place to find it. Maybe you can rewatch Season 1 of Lost instead.

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