FLIGHT (2012, Robert Zemeckis): 6/10
I read somewhere that Tom Hanks said he learned more about acting from working with Denzel Washington (on PHILADELPHIA) than from any other actor. I wonder if Hanks told Zemeckis that during CAST AWAY, and in turn, Zemeckis decided to cast one of the few Hollywood stars as good as Hanks for his next live action feature, FLIGHT. If so, it was a wise choice — Denzel is sensational in this, giving what may be his second-best leading turn ever after his tour de force in Spike Lee’s epic masterpiece MALCOLM X.
Add to Denzel’s ace turn an opening act that includes a plane-crash sequence more vivid than that in CAST AWAY and more intense than the one in THE GREY from earlier this year, and you have the makings of another great Zemeckis film to rival ROMANCING THE STONE and BACK TO THE FUTURE. Alas, things go sharply downhill when the plane does.
The film turns into a two-hour AA meeting with preachy, single-minded focus and painfully on-the-nose music choices that come across as part pandering and part smug paternalism. The potential themes of American hero worship, pass-the-buck scapegoating, and casual atheism are all tossed aside if they’re even brought up at all, just so we can see one more scene of Washington making the terrible choice to drown himself in Stoli. Lost in this hammering attention are fine actors Bruce Greenwood and Don Cheadle, who are given far too little to do, and an unnecessary romantic subplot with fellow addict Kelly Reilly, which never amounts to anything much. John Goodman comes off the best among the supporting performers because he has exactly two scenes and chews the shit out of them with gleeful zeal, but it’s too little fun amidst a morose, overly pious message movie. When it was over, I was happy to come home and crack open a beer.