Movie Review: Flight [2012]

Flight [2012]

Flight [2012]
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Genre: Drama
Starring: Denzel Washington, Tamara Tunie, John Goodman, Kelly Reilly, Melissa Leo, Don Cheadle
Running Time: 138 minutes

Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is an alcoholic and a drug abuser. He sleeps with prostitutes, has a dysfunctional relationship with his ex-wife and son, and parties far more often than he should. He’s also a commercial airlines pilot, and a damn good one at that.

One morning, still drunk after a boozy night with a flight attendant, Whitaker snorts a few lines of cocaine and then heads to the airport, ready to pilot a flight to Atlanta. Despite some concerns from his co-pilot, Whip appears no worse for the wear as he takes control and guides the plane through some rough turbulence during takeoff. Problems arise near the end of the flight when the plane’s hydraulics give out, causing it to take a steep dive in what is certain to be a horrific crash. Only thanks to some quick thinking from Whip, in which he seems to be acting purely on instinct, does the inevitable plane crash manage to happen with minimal casualties. It’s an astonishing feat, and an impressive scene to boot.

Flight [2012]

Whip should be labeled a hero after this, right? After all, he saved nearly a hundred lives due to his swift actions, and most pilots wouldn’t even fathom trying what he did. If only it were that simple.

As they do for every aviation incident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) performs an investigation of the crash and quickly finds out that Whitaker was under the influence of alcohol and cocaine while flying the plane. Now, instead of being hailed for his heroic efforts, Whip is looking at the very serious charges of intoxicated manslaughter, as well as a huge legal case. Could Whip have acted the way he did if he hadn’t been high/drunk at the time? Would all of those lives have been saved? Ultimately, it’s a moot point.

Flight [2012]

What’s interesting is that after the crash, Whip has all sorts of people trying to help him out, yet he keeps going back to the bottle. At the hospital while recovering from his injuries, he befriends Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a woman recovering from a drug overdose. She stands as something of the opposite of Whip — someone willing to go to AA meetings and attempt to change her life. The airplane’s pilot union, represented by Charlie Anderson (Bruce Greenwood), delivers him an attorney (Don Cheadle) to help drop the criminal charges, including all traces of the toxicology reports. With all this support, why won’t Whitaker get help?

That’s the power of addiction. Director Robert Zemeckis nails this issue with devastating effectiveness, even if he sometimes goes about it in rather obvious ways. A bit more subtlety would have been welcome, especially during one laughably on-the-nose scene where Kelly enters her apartment to shoot heroin as the Red Hot Chili Peppers song “Under the Bridge” plays. Still, Whip’s descent from hero to rock bottom is masterful, undeniably aided by a stellar performance from Denzel Washington. This is Denzel’s best work in years, and he deserves the accolades he has been receiving. It’s also great to see John Goodman step in and deliver much-needed comic relief in a couple scenes as Whip’s longtime hippie friend/dealer, Harling Mays.

When Flight is brought up in conversation, most will mention Denzel’s excellent work, and perhaps the intensity of the airplane crash, but the bottom line is that this is one of the most compelling looks at addiction in recent years.

8/10

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Movie Project #35 and #36: Grave of the Fireflies [1988] and Crash [2004]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Grave of the Fireflies [1988]
Grave of the Fireflies [1988, Isao Takahata]
Starring Tsutomu Tatsumi, Ayano Shiraishi, Akemi Yamaguchi.

Grave of the Fireflies is unlike any other animated film I have ever seen. It is simultaneously beautiful and devastating as it shows life in Japan near the end of World War II. The movie follows two orphaned children, 14-year-old Seita and his 4-year-old sister Setsuko, as they struggle to get by in their war torn village. They find temporary solace in the home of a distant aunt, but she makes it clear that they are a burden on her and her family, and they are hardly welcomed in the household. Later, the children attempt to live on their own, but it is obvious that Seita is not in a position to take care of a young child. It’s heartbreaking to watch the two children fend for themselves as they struggle to acquire even basic nourishments.

This is an incredibly sad and tragic film, one that is made even more powerful because it is based on a true story. Grave of the Fireflies is an emotional experience, to say the least, and it may very well be one of the best anti-war films ever made. An absolute must-see. 10/10

Crash [2004, Paul Haggis]
Crash [2004, Paul Haggis]
Starring Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock, Thandie Newton.

Out of all the movies in my project, the inclusion of Crash is what garnered the biggest reaction. The initial response from commenters was mostly negative, but then it started to get some vocal support as well. It’s clear that this is a polarizing film, and that’s why I wanted to see it. As the credits began to roll, I had just one question: How the hell did this movie win Best Picture???

There really wasn’t much I liked about Crash at all. The film tries so hard to tackle the touchy subject of racism, even going so far as to incorporate at least a half dozen different races, all of whom make derogatory comments to each other. There are no likable characters, and they all act irrationally. The whole movie felt artificial and forced to me, as characters found ways to incorporate racist remarks into *EVERY* single dialogue exchange. Look, I know there are a lot of racist fucks out there, but I still have a hard time believing people speak this way all the time. Some of the character behavior was simply ridiculous, too, such as that of Terrence Howard’s character, who exploded into a fit of rage that was completely out of character considering his past actions. The entire film had an air of pretentiousness to it, right down to the pompous soundtrack that tried to make everything more dramatic than it really was. With hackneyed writing and dozens of pathetic stereotypes, Crash is an embarrassment that should not have even been nominated for Best Picture. 4/10

Movie Project #10: Hotel Rwanda [2004]

The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.

Hotel Rwanda [2004]

Hotel Rwanda [2004]
Directors: Terry George
Genre: Biography/Drama/History
Language: English/French
Country: USA

Going into Hotel Rwanda, I kept hearing the same things.

“That is a real tearjerker.”

“That movie is so sad. Make sure to have a box of tissues nearby.”

Well, after watching it, I can certainly understand these sentiments.

The movie is about a horrifying time in the African country of Rwanda. The year is 1994, and a major civil war has broken out between two ethnic groups: the Hutu and Tutsi. The Hutus have pushed the Tutsi out of power and are now concentrating their efforts on mass genocide of the Tutsis.

Caught in the middle of this brutality is Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle) the manager of the four-star Sabena Hôtel des Mille Collines. He is Hutu, his wife Tatiana (Sophie Okonedo) is Tutsi. As the violence worsens, his hotel becomes something of an oasis for nearby refugees. Paul’s role quickly becomes that of a diplomat, carefully negotiating with rebels and military figures in order to obtain rations and maintain the safety of those staying with him. This becomes a thin line, as he struggles to maintain a balance between all of this.

Hotel Rwanda [2004]

Paul’s appeals for help reap little rewards. The UN has peacekeeping forces in the area led by Colonel Oliver (Nick Nolte), but they can offer little help. They have guns, but are ordered not to fire them. Oliver and his men do all they can, mainly by attempting to transfer refugees to “safe” locations, but it is clear that they have little support from those outside of the warzone. The president of Paul’s hotel chain, Mr. Tillens (Jean Reno), is mortified by what is going on, but again, his hands are pretty much tied. It’s a giant clusterfuck, as everyone is aware of the atrocities being committed but nothing is being done about it.

This is all very much a true story, and the end result shows that nearly one million people died during this genocide. Paul was able to save over 1,200 people with his hotel, which is absolutely remarkable.

Rather than focusing on showing us the countless murders, Hotel Rwanda demonstrates the power of men who want to do good. As a respected man in the area, Paul has chances to leave with his family, but he opts to stay and try to save some lives. I was pleased that the movie took this route, as it was not necessary to show endless moments of brutality in order to convey its message. This is about the power of humanity, and those who did everything they could to help in a terrifying situation.

Hotel Rwanda [2004]

Not enough can be said of Don Cheadle’s performance here. He is absolutely fantastic, perfectly portraying the despair and anguish his character is feeling, while at the same time showing the strength necessary to help his fellow people. His Oscar nomination was well deserved. Sophie Okonedo is excellent as his wife, and the rest of the cast is strong as well, even including a small role from Joaquin Phoenix as a news cameraman.

In short, Hotel Rwanda is a powerful and moving film that sheds some light on a massive genocide that most people either didn’t know about or didn’t care enough about. It’s depressing, yet also uplifting in a way thanks to the fact that one man was able to help save so many lives. Just incredible.

9/10

Hamburger Hill [1987]

Hamburger Hill [1987]

Hamburger Hill [1987]
Directors: John Irvin
Genre: Drama/War/Action
Language: English
Country: USA

As one of countless late 80’s Vietnam War movies, Hamburger Hill unfortunately became overlooked by many. Employing a cast of relative unknowns at the time, including many first major roles for some later established stars (Don Cheadle, Dylan McDermott, Courtney Vance, Steven Weber), John Irvin’s directorial effort tells the tale of a U.S. Army platoon’s battle to obtain control of the mountain known as Hill 937 (also: ‘Hamburger Hill’). This is a true story of what became a bloody 10-day assault, one that caused massive casualties for both American and North Vietnamese forces. This portrayal has frequently been named one of the most realistic war movies ever made.

While many similar genre movies at the time were about the broad scope of war, Hamburger Hill focuses entirely on the soldiers themselves. There are fourteen men in this platoon, and although character development is kept to a minimum for most of them, the film effortlessly shows the strong sense of camaraderie amongst the troops. These are men who are fighting off racial tensions that are increased by the stresses of war, all the while trying to keep morale as high as possible. This is painfully difficult to do, however, when the soldiers keep hearing what’s happening back home. “Long haired hippies” are throwing bags of dog shit at returning soldiers, parents of deceased troops are receiving hate mail, and one soldier’s girlfriend has told him that she will no longer be sending him letters because her college friends told her it is immoral. I found the tales of stories back home to be fascinating, although some may be quick to dismiss this as “anti-anti-war.”

Hamburger Hill does a great job of making you feel like you are there in the middle of the action, and it truly excels at showing the brotherly bond inside the platoon. While the movie overall does not really break any new ground, the banter and stories told by the characters are well-written enough to keep interest in between the grueling action scenes. Although a step below the top tier of Vietnam War classics such as Platoon and Apocalypse Now, Hamburger Hill is definitely still worth seeing.

7.5/10