Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Flight (2012)

We're slap-bang in the middle of the half-term holidays over here, and school holidays are essentially there to provide you with time to watch films. I worry for a time when school has finished and I'm between jobs, as that'll just result in days of non-stop film watching. If I read about a film I like the sound of, the holidays are the time that I can fulfil that ambition. So it was with Flight, the new Robert Zemeckis film which I've been meaning to see since its release late last year, which I went to see earlier today on a trip into Edinburgh with Connor, a pal who has little or no sense of social restraint.

After being introduced to my first proper KFC lunch - suspiciously tender chicken, not enough barbeque sauce - we stocked up on the compulsory cinematic snacks from the pound shop and headed for the ten to three showing in the Omni Centre, a food hall/Vue cinema in the centre of Edinburgh. We got two for one on tickets and headed for screen 10. We sat down on board Southjet flight 227 to Atlanta and braced ourselves for takeoff in worryingly stormy conditions.

Robert Zemeckis' new film Flight opens with a shot of a pair of boobs. This is something you should take into account if you are planning to go and see it with a member of your family, particularly a parent or parents. I would recommend taking a friend instead. These boobs are then shown to be attached to a fully naked air stewardess, who walks about the room, past the camera a few times, showing everything off. Do not go and see it with a family member. Go with a friend, and you can enjoy this scene quite happily. Denzel Washington proceeds to wake up in the same room. He finished a few beers and snorts some cocaine to wake himself up, before slipping on his captain's uniform and heading towards the plane he will be flying in a few hours time. Who Framed Roger Rabbit this is not. Flight marks something quite different from anything I've seen Zemeckis do before.

What follows from this rather hardcore first scene is nothing short of spectacular. It becomes clear that the plane Washington is behind the wheel of will not be touching down on an Atlanta landing strip cleanly. The plane rattles, shakes and nose-dives, and Zemeckis puts the cinema audience right in the seats of the passengers. I don't believe I've ever had a film experience this intense. Superb special effects and remarkable acting from all the crew and passengers on board had me clutching onto my seat with sweaty hands as the plane is flipped upside down and back again, before smashing into a churchyard with people bouncing off every surface. Yet, only six out of the 102 people on board are killed. Impressive by anyone's standards, and Washington's pilot, William 'Whip' Whitaker, is hailed as a national hero. But who should be blamed for these people's deaths? Was it mechanical problems or was it the negligence of a pilot who was both drunk and high?

This is the intriguing question that drives the rest of the film. As Whitaker puts it, no other pilot could have landed that plane like he did, with so few fatalities. Don Cheadle's lawyer shows later that when the airline put ten other pilots in the same conditions, simulated, none of them managed it. So should Whitaker be honoured for the way he handled the situation or punished for daring to fly? This is an interesting study on the nature of blame. Instead of focussing on the 96 people who survived the crash thanks to the pilot, it is the six who died that are the problem. The inquiry committee for the crash want to blame someone, rather than just deriding it as an Act of God. This means, even when there is clear evidence that it was a mechanical failure that caused the plane to go into a nosedive, it will be the pilot who will be convicted of manslaughter if he admits to being on cocaine and drunk at the time. It is, therefore, all down to Whitaker: how much will he admit to doing?

Flight really is a character study of Whip Whitaker, played magnificently by Denzel Washington. He is a proud man, who knows that he was the only person who could have landed that plane with anyone emerging alive afterwards. He is, however, deeply affected by alcohol and drugs, addicted to such a high extent that he can't bring himself to stop even when he is told his freedom depends on it. Washington makes the character, showing him as sympathetic and desperate though infuriatingly stubborn. He continually lets down the people who try to help him because of his dependency on substances. Whitaker is a fascinating character, and one who carries the film from beginning to end.

Zemeckis has been making CGI-animated films exclusively for over a decade now, and this is his return to good old live action. It has paid off well, showing that the director of Forrest Gump still has it in him to produce a really great study of one character's personality and how it affects the various hazards that life puts in their way. Well worth going taking the time out of my holiday to see.

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