Robert Zemeckis‘ Fliight, which screened this morning for NY Film Festival press, “may have elements of action filmmaking and courtroom drama, but it is, ultimately, a character study about the sickness of addiction,” writes In Contention‘s Kris Tapley. “It captures the embarrassment, the denial, the rage and, crucially, the chronic fallibility that comes with it.
And in Tapley’s view, Denzel Washington‘s performance as Whip Whitaker “fires on all cylinders [and runs] through a complex range — charismatic, embattled, defiant, broken and, ultimately, humbled. [It] marks his most accomplished performance in some time, one certainly rating higher than the two that brought him Oscars in the past.” Or it tops Denzel’s Training Day and Glory perfs.
John Gatins‘ screenplay “pulses with an authenticity that suggests personal experience, but [is] married to a narrative that all but asks whether impairment might have sparked [Denzel’s] inspiration to save a hundred lives in a bold way, it becomes something more complex.”
Not to beat a dead horse, but this is exactly what I getting at in my 9.23 piece called “A Wing and a Prayer.” “From what I’m hearing Denzel’s condition when he saves his plane from crashing is what saves the day. If he’d been 100% sober he might not have rolled the plane over and landed it upside down,” I wrote. This led to that thought about driving half-bombed when I was living in Connecticut in the ’70s, and the idea “that I drove better when half-bombed because I was less intimidated by the possibility of something going wrong. I drove without fear, without hesitation. I took those hairpin turns like a champ.” And I was bitchslapped by several commenters for saying this.
“The film gets going in a hurry,” Tapley explains. “Whitaker’s ear-to-ear grin, the bouncing song choices, a near-numbing crash sequence and the beginnings of the malfeasance drama. But once the plot-driven stuff moves aside it starts to settle in somewhere in the second act and, for some, the gear shift might not work. It just depends on if you’re invested in the character enough to follow that next path, and personally speaking, I was.
“Awards-wise, it’s a little tough to say at the moment. Washington faces a difficult Best Actor race but he’ll get the campaign of his life, surely: this is Paramount’s baby this year. The screenplay deserves some real consideration, but it could fall short of films with more overt gravitas and/or fare not perceived in such commercial territory. I really couldn’t say until more get a look and I can ask around, but I certainly think it’s a great counter-intuitive choice in a year packed with the usual bait and I hope it finds its audience.”
Here’s another approving review from The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy.