SYNOPSIS: Denzel Washington plays a troubled airline pilot who safely lands a malfunctioning plane, saving 96 of the 102 people passengers and crew. Hailed as a hero at first, soon his unsavory personal habits bring him under suspicion. Was it a malfunction of a mechanical or personal nature that brought the plane down?
Richard: 3 Stars
Ned: 2 ½ Stars
Richard: Ned, is there another a-list leading man who explores the dark sides of their characters as often as Washington? Will Smith and Tom Cruise will occasionally let the heroic side of their on-screen personas take a back seat, but Washington revels in mucking around in the mud. From Training Day to American Gangster and Safe House he crafts complex characters you wouldn’t want to sit next to on the bus. Do you think this is Oscar worthy?
Ned: As far as A-listers in love with the dark side, it’s pretty much Washington and Leo DiCaprio, who I don’t think has smiled onscreen since Catch Me If You Can. And Washington gets plenty murky here — so much so that it made me wonder if we’d be rooting for this character at all if it were played by someone else. Let’s face it, the booze- and coke-addled pilot he plays here only has one attractive characteristic: looking and sounding like Denzel Washington. As for Oscar-worthy, I’m not so sure on this one.
RC: I thought he managed to subtly capture the ego and hubris that allows his hotshot character to present a sober face to the public, even though the film’s visual language is frequently not as refined. A close-up of Washington’s hand grasping a mini bottle of vodka and the accompanying swoosh sound looks like something that should be in a commercial not in a film about the effects of alcoholism.
NE: The tone of the film in general seemed to be all over the place. Who knows, maybe the whole film was supposed to seem drunk? In any event, it didn’t work for me. His hitting rock bottom is played for laughs, and Kelly Riley — as the recovering heroin addict he shacks up with for… some reason — seems to be literally in a different movie for the first 30 minutes or so. And as movies about alcoholism go, it probably doesn’t do Flight any favors to come out so soon after the much more nuanced and devastating Smashed.
RC: I think Smashed is a much more touching and effective story about addiction. As much as I enjoyed Washington, I wish the movie had been more concise. It flits around a half-dozen themes before the end credits roll which is two or three too many.
NE: Overall, the movie left me cold. It starts great — with thrilling takeoff and crash-landing sequences as the highlights, but it’s flat and uneven from then on until the moral kicks in without warning.
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