Sunday, December 9, 2012

Flight (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Finally, here is a story that allows Denzel Washington the freedom to breathe, express and not be driven by an action film. "Flight" is the story of pilot Whip Whitaker (Washington) who always strives to do right even though he is beset by a few personal demons, namely those that are floating in vodka.When we first see him, the hot shot Whip is partying horizontally with a flight attendant, Katerina Marquez (Nadine Valazquez). Since he has a morning flight he decides to give himself a boost with a line of coke.It makes a strong cup of coffee.

Cue music by The Rolling Stones: a repeated auditory symbol of hedonism. Whip is dressed to kill in smooth dark shades, cocky in the cockpit. Bad weather? No problem. A storm? Please. Turbulence? Light stuff. Whip chooses to flirt with another attendant Margaret ( Tamara Tunie).

Then things get wild.

After some hair raising turbulence, Whip flies into tranquil air and proceeds to go into the plane for some easy banter with the queasy passengers. They applaud him and he goes for a covert screwdriver cocktail. Co-pilot Ken (Brian Geraghty) takes over. Under a snooze, our hot-wings flyer is jolted awake. There is severe turbulence and the instruments are not responding. Pandemonium ensues. What follows is some of the most stressful airplane chaos that I've ever seen but then again, I'm pathologically afraid of air-travel. The plane goes into a rapid downward plunge. Whip is the only person with a cool head.

There is some compelling surreal footage here as the plane plows into a Pentecostal Baptist ritual: crosses in flames while men in robes take flight, transforming into makeshift Emergency aides.

Our hero wakes up, bruised and battered in the hospital but as cocky as ever. After all, he saved lives by boldness. But part of this self importance is a mask to shade himself from the guilt of two flight attendants dying in air, one of them being Katerina. The question of Whip's responsibility is the dramatic thrust. Is Whip a good pilot despite his on the job drinking? Did he do all he could? Or was he set up by Fate (or God) to fail his passengers, his crew, and ultimately the inflated imperviousness  of himself?

Washington gives a solid turn here with the perfect blend of devil-pilot-rocker slyness  with a directness of logic and compassion. Whip is both fragile imp and arrogant hero. He is a skilled pilot and he knows it. Despite some obvious melodrama (the liquor, the ex-wife and son battle,the attraction to a troubled woman) Denzel makes it all very believable. We are moved just as much by his near demonic possession as we are by his yearning to comfort others.

There is one scene involving a hotel liquor cabinet and a tiny vodka bottle that is as jolting as "Jaws" albeit kitschy.

John Goodman steals the show as Whip's glib and fun-loving drug dispensing friend Harling Mays who gives some refreshing irreverence and has the film's best lines. He has no qualms asking for recreational addictions of all kinds. You will laugh out loud. Goodman alone is reason to see this film.

Don Cheadle also delivers a capable, if somewhat uninspired interpretation of a NTSB lawyer. Melissa Leo appears as a head investigator, all ice and nerves.

Some rightful wings are earned by Spielbergian director Robert Zemeckis (Castaway, Forrest Gump) who mixes his trademark Americana of The Everyman with enough tension to make it ultimately and intimately watchable, due in no small part to the skill of Denzel Washington.

In the end, we might have a bad dad  pilot, trying to make good with some predictable elements, but in Whip Whittaker there resides a Humanist unsentimentality that soars beyond any  traditional trail of tears.

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