Fri 2 Nov 2012
With the release of “Flight” starring Denzel Washington, it marks perhaps the first true Oscar-bait film of 2012. To make sure people understand the term, here’s the Ian Forbes’ Dictionary definition of the word:
Oscar-bait (äs-kər-bāt). Noun. Definition: A movie whose sole purpose is to garner awards nominations/wins; often characterized by over-the-top performances, star-studded casting, a script built to please mass audiences, and a multitude of unnecessary close-ups of the actors either welling up with tears or in full emotional breakdown.
“Flight” checks off each element described above and is sure to satiate audiences who are transfixed by anything Denzel does but I’m not one who thinks that’s enough. Here he plays an alcoholic who also dabbles in cocaine and happens to fly commercial jets for a living. As you can see from the trailer, he is involved in a plane crash and the movie then shifts into the story of a man who refuses to accept he has a problem and doesn’t want to end up in prison for the rest of his life for piloting a plane while loaded.
Let’s start with the positive side of things. The first half of the movie is pretty good. Director Robert Zemeckis did an excellent job of presenting the plane crash and I highly doubt this one will make it into the rotation for in-flight movies. Denzel’s early coping mechanisms following the accident work well and bringing in John Goodman as his coke dealer is good for laughs (we’ll get to why this is a problem shortly).
Onto the negatives. The resolution of Denzel’s fate and acceptance of his addiction plays out like a Lifetime movie of the week. While the beginning of the film had some nuance and the possibility of presenting a gritty look at this broken man scrambling to stay afloat amidst the notoriety he assumes following the crash, the back half of the story is painted with the broadest of brushes. It’s so bad that Zemeckis had the screening audience I was seated with cheering for him to escape prosecution via a relapse. How badly do you have to mishandle a movie about addiction and its negative effects in order to get an room full of people to hoot and holler when the protagonist gets loaded to even himself out from a night of drinking so he can cover up the shame and tragedy of his life? Answer: This badly.
Goodman’s comic-relief is fun but becomes completely farcical towards the end and is so obviously placed to keep audiences from getting to any emotional low that a story like this should demand but Zemeckis is afraid/unwilling to allow. Perhaps the best way to describe this is to say it’s a tough-look at addiction shrouded in mainstream appeal and lacking the courage to present itself as something sincere; almost glamorizing and romanticizing addiction. It certainly had me wanting to imbibe a few adult beverages and rolling my eyes every few minutes as the story began to wrap itself up and feels like the filmmakers wanted nothing more than to please test audiences, story be damned.
As with all Oscar-bait films, this is sure to make certain audiences feel like they just watched something special. For more discerning film goers, and I’d like to think the majority of critics as well but I know some care more about getting quoted on a poster than presenting a thorough critique, “Flight” is a waste of acting talent and an obvious ploy to get Denzel another acting award nomination. He’s a great actor but the script and direction let him down. This is a one cinematic plane-ride that should have been grounded and left on the runway.