Sunday, December 9, 2012

10 Random Thoughts I Had While Watching "Flight"

1. At 58 (on December 28), Denzel Washington is still so handsome. I admire him for never playing into any kind of beefcake persona in his youth, which perhaps has allowed him to age more gracefully than most. His two romantic interests during the course of Flight may be more than 20 years his junior, but it's never glaringly obvious. He doesn't come across as a still-youthful stud or a dirty old man, and I wonder if it's because Washington looks at least 10 years younger than he is, or because for all his good looks, he's never given off much sexual energy. In the opening scene, he's just a guy waking up in bed with an incredibly hot naked woman. If another actor Washington's age with an onscreen history of exuding more explicit sexual heat had been cast in the role -- say, Dennis Quaid -- that sequence might have played out differently in my mind.

2. Poor Brian Geraghty. This is the first time I've seen him in anything since The Hurt Locker, and his character in that film, could actually be his character in Flight after a career change. He does innocence and fear -- and in Flight's case, fundamental Christianity -- well, but I'd like to see him do something else, too. The other night I saw his Hurt Locker costar Anthony Mackie playing Anna Faris's now-gay ex in What's Your Number?. I guess that in the end, 2009's Best Picture was most beneficial to Best Actor nominee Jeremy Renner and Best Director Kathryn Bigelow.

3. Kelly Reilly looks like a cross between Janine Turner and Florence Welch from Florence + the Machine. I like her, but I don't think the film would have suffered if her character, Nicole, hadn't entered until the scene in the hospital stairwell. Her early scenes detracted from the set-up of the main premise, which should have been all about Whip Whitaker, Washington's character. Reilly is a decent actress, but it feels like we've switched to a different movie whenever she pops up. Washington has more chemistry with Tamara Tunie, and his conflict with Tunie's Margaret, the only survivor of the flight's three attendants, who knows that Whitaker was in no shape to be flying a plane, is more interesting. I would prefer less Nicole (or none at all), more Margaret, and more scenes of Whitaker dealing with his ex-wife and son and with the bereaved families of the six deceased passengers and cabin crew.

4. The plane crash scene has got to be the most terrifying -- and realistic, though I can't say for sure what a plane crash would look like from an inside-the-aircraft point of view -- one that I've seen since the crash that landed Tom Hanks on that deserted island in Cast Away. That 2000 film was Flight director Robert Zemeckis's last live-action effort. Zemeckis will soon be able to say that he directed both of Philadelphia's double-Oscar-winning co-leads to Best Actor Oscar nominations.

5. Interestingly, one pass-out scene aside, the movie doesn't go out of its way to present Whitaker as a stumbling alcoholic -- or as a text-book alcoholic at all -- until the second half. Though his colleague Charlie (Bruce Greenwood) describes him as not a "drunk" but a "heavy drinker," I immediately pegged him as more of a functional alcoholic. There are a lot more of those than we'd like to believe. Mixing vodka with orange juice while piloting a plane is a supremely stupid move, but before he starts to unhinge, Whitaker actually appears to drink the way many people who would call themselves "social drinkers" (perhaps deludedly) do.

6. Can you be charged with manslaughter for flying an airplane drunk if your skill actually saved lives and the reason why the aircraft was endangered was because of faulty equipment? But who am I to argue with any character played by my beloved Don Cheadle (Whitaker's attorney Hugh), Washington's costar in Devil in a Blue Dress. I wonder if they reminisced about the '90s on the set.

7. I'm really going back and forth with my views on alcohol while watching this movie. I know that Whitaker's drinking is not the reason why those six people died, but the scene were he's clearing the alcohol out of his family farm -- so much booze, also not uncommon for people who call themselves "social drinkers" -- is so powerful. Most of us have been there -- or someplace close -- after a particularly brutal party night. Then there's the scene after the meeting with Charlie and Hugh, when Whitaker goes into the bar and orders orange juice. "Just orange juice?" the bartender asks, and Whitaker adds a double Stoli to his tab. It's probably the context of the film that made me see it this way, but as the guy behind the bar started pouring, he almost looked like a drug pusher.

8. I'm not sure how I feel about Flight's comic relief: John Goodman overplaying the jolly-fat-guy-with-a-fake-ponytail bit as Whitaker's coke dealer (Oh God, I hope his antics don't lead to an epidemic of people abusing coke to offset the effect of alcohol so that they could face official hearings, or fly airplanes), or the cancer patient in the stairwell. After being so impressed by Goodman's performance in a key role during the fourth season of Damages and in small parts in last's years The Artist and this year's Argo, I wonder why someone can't give him a sizable big-screen job to match his talent.

9. Speaking of underused talents, I wonder if Oscar winner Melissa Leo (Cheadle's Traffic costar, who pops up here for one tense scene as a master griller) will ever get a juicy Frozen River-caliber leading role again. You'd think her Academy Award winning turn in The Fighter would have opened a few more doors.

10. As a cautionary tale about the dangers of drunkenness, Flight is no The Lost Weekend, or Days of Wine and Roses, or Leaving Las Vegas, or Webb Pierce's "There Stands the Glass" (which was the country song playing in my head during the minibar scene). And I'm not about to pilot a 57-minute flight from Florida to Atlanta anytime soon (thank God!). But after watching Flight, it'll probably be a long time before I feel comfortable hanging out with Johnnie Walker again.

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