Opening: FLIGHT is Well-Acted But Shameless Awards Bait

Peter Martin, Managing Editor

Denzel Washington is currently on a full-bore publicity blitz for Robert Zemeckis' Flight, in which he stars as an airline pilot who makes a miraculous landing, thus saving the lives of all on board -- only for it to be revealed that he had alcohol in his system. Washington's performance has generated talk of awards consideration, but what about the film itself?

Flight debuted recently at the New York Film Festival, where our own Christopher Bourne saw it and filed a review:

Flight is Zemeckis's first live-action feature in more than a decade -- his last was 2000's Cast Away -- and is crowned by a riveting and nuanced performance by Denzel Washington as the troubled character at its center.

Much like NYFF opener Life of Pi, Flight features an impressive disaster scene, rendered with state-of-the-art special effects, which Zemeckis has proved throughout his career to be no stranger to. Washington is surrounded by other cast members who do very good work as well, so in the acting and technical departments at least, there is little to quibble with here. Unfortunately, where Flight fails to soar -- again, much like Life of Pi -- is in the areas beyond performance and special effects, where it disappointingly succumbs to the pitfalls of mainstream Hollywood convention. Zemeckis has as his basis an often well-written screenplay by John Gatins, which the director proceeds to bludgeon into emotionally manipulative mush by insistently telegraphing every mood and dramatic turn, to the point where its redemptive storyline feels as rigidly plotted as any pilot's flight path.

Ouch! After outlining the film's narrative trajectory, Mr. Bourne concludes (with a possible MILD SPOILER, so beware:

Flight eventually settles into following the vicissitudes of Whip's addiction struggles, and Denzel Washington is quite compelling in conveying the way Whip becomes his own worst enemy, constantly frustrating everyone's efforts to help him. Also, a very interesting thematic thrust emerges in the moral question of whether Whip's heroism trumps his addiction. Alas, the film loses its nerve with a last-act redemptive turnaround that can be seen from a mile off and comes across as cheap and shamelessly manipulative. Flight, despite the interesting ethical quandary it explores, reveals itself in its final moments to be conventional Hollywood melodrama to its very core, wrapping everything up in a neat bow of mass audience-pandering sentimentality.

You can read Mr. Bourne's review in its entirety right here..

As always, of course, your mileage may vary. The film opens wide in North American theaters on Friday, November 2. Check local listings for theaters and showtimes.

Christopher Bourne contributed to this story.

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