“Flight” directed by Robert Zemeckis

By on November 17, 2012
Dan Walker on Film


Director: Robert Zemeckis (Partial filmography below)

Cast: It really doesn’t matter                                                                                                           (Watch Melissa Leo in “Frozen River” if you haven’t seen it.  Don’t judge her by this movie.)

Time: 2 hours 19 Minutes

Director Zemeckis has made some massively entertaining movies (“Back to the Future”, “Romancing the Stone”, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”). He can also repeat himself (“The Polar Express”, the unwatchable “Beowulf”, “A Christmas Carol”). I have no idea how to categorize “Death Becomes Her”, other than to say it was a waste of Streep, Hawn and even Willis.  The special effects and makeup were clearly the stars. While “Cast Away” was enjoyable because of how real the plane crash was and Tom Hanks’ great, nuanced, chancy solo (sorry, Wilson) performance, someone had to oversee the effects guys and guide and help frame, time and edit that performance.

I wanted to say all that to emphasize I generally have a favorable and somewhat knowledgeable opinion of Zemekis and his movies before I unload (which I don’t feel good about):

– The opening sequence, which has to be commented on, is thrilling, suspenseful, fascinating and a technical marvel. (My fingerprints are indelibly imprinted on the theatre seat’s arms.)  What takes away from its brilliance — and not just a little — is how similar it is to the beginning of “Cast Away”. Do it once, accept the accolades, then move on, Bob.

– Denzel Washington’s character was so unlikable I regretted he lived through the plane crash the entire rest of the picture.

– The message that cocaine tempers the detrimental effects of alcohol was horrifying.

– Usually when John Goodman plays repellent characters (the slimy salesman in “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”), he maintains his charm. In this movie, each of his (mercifully few) appearances was fingernails on a blackboard and chewing tinfoil simultaneously.

– I realized how much Bruce Greenwood seems to just fill in the blanks when he’s in a movie. I find his presence distracting in every role I’ve seen him in (“13 Days”, “Capote”, the recent and wonderful “Star Trek”). He’s a working actor, which I can appreciate but that’s the problem; I always feel like I’m watching an actor act when I see him in a movie. And I never felt it more than I did with this one.

OK, by now you want to know what this film is supposedly about. Let’s get that out of the way now. Washington plays an airline pilot who makes a heroic crash landing, saving a lot of people, making him a celebrity. Then an investigation begins and a number of unpleasant truths come out. Is that enough? It should be.

– This movie was drenched in dramatic sentiment. Relentlessly so.  I’m still climbing out of that emotional hole.

– The ending was the last straw in a movie I fought to like. I never try to guess an ending but this movie hands it to you on a platter. I really loathe schmaltz and this wrap-up bathes you in it.

Spoiler Alert:

– The ending — yes, it was so bad I’m giving it two bullet points. It reminded me of those old Popeye cartoons where he and Olive Oyl are harassed and pounded by Bluto/Brutus for 99% of the running time and then Popeye comes back at the very end to put him in his place and get ‘da goil.’ I never felt Popeye’s retaliation was sufficient. Similarly, Flight’s ending was nowhere nearly enough to redeem the character (and movie). I’m thinking about appealing the sentence myself for a tougher one.

During my viewing, I looked at my watch repeatedly and even got up and walked up and down my (empty, back) row. I don’t remember ever doing that before.


OK, here’s the lights-up-walking-out-of-the-theater chatter….

I feel I’m alone on this one,  but the let’s-photoshop-Tom-Hanks-with-historic-figures technology in “Forrest Gump” — Zemekis’ crowning achievement and winner of six Oscars was dated the moment the movie came out and the story was absurd and way too sentimental, even for a fantasy.(Can I use the word “schmaltz” twice in one writing?) Admittedly, I always resented the fact it won the Best Picture Oscar over “Pulp Fiction” (an office I inhabited was adjacent to Tarantino’s so I feel a bond with the guy) but I think my points stand.  Like I told my friends at the time, Forrest Gump” was a lullaby; “Pulp Fiction” was a wake-up call. One was influential and game-changing and inspiring to a generation of film makers; the other was nothing more than what it was.  A glossy, meticulously-made, overblown sham.….

Last thought (cue applause): For a stretch in the 80’s and 90’s, Zemekis was a director you associated with moving a story along at a good pace while incorporating solid and often groundbreaking special effects.  As time has gone on, his style hasn’t progressed. He’s one of many directors you can lump in a similar category: a competent story-teller and technician.  I’d love it if his next film(s) prove me wrong, but it’s hard to see that happening.

Lincoln is next….


About Tom Godfrey

One comment on ““Flight” directed by Robert Zemeckis

  1. Bernard Dion on said:

    Working in the airline Biz, I was very intent on seeing this movie; and it seems to be getting a fair amount of critical acclaim. But after reading Dan’s review, I’m not so sure I will see it. it might make my frustrations about airlines being run like the Post office and the incestuous relationship between the FAA and the airlines even worst.
    Thanks for warning me, Dan.

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