Flight: Sex, Drugs, Rock n’ Roll, and Oscar Baiting

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It’s that time of year again (actually it started a couple months ago but, as stated in my previous post, I’ve been busy) when studios start releasing their Oscar contenders. It’s also that time of year, when the movies released are stuffed to the brink with movie elements that they think the Academy will be looking for when they choose their Oscar nominations. This is where Flight comes in, because as good a movie as it is, it sometimes goes way over the top with things that it thinks will guarantee it an Oscar nod.

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I don’t want to spend the whole time bashing this movie, because I did like it, so we can start with what was the best part of the movie, Denzel Washington. Let’s face it, the guy’s a stud. Even when he’s doing a shit movie like Remember the Titans, you can always count on him to bring his A-game. He played his character beautifully. When his character was sober, Denzel was sharp. When his character was drunk, Denzel’s acting reached a hilarious level of excess that would only be matched by how excessively his character could drink before passing out (I’ve never seen so many bottles emptied by one man in one sitting, ever).

This leads me to the next thing I liked about the film, they did a great job of showing the difficulties of being an addict. The first thing Whittaker did when he got to his farm, after leaving the hospital, was to throw away all his alcohol, and vowing never to drink again. A vow that lasted all of one day before he got some bad news and immediately started drinking again. And we feel his struggle, we see how hard he tries to not drink, and how strongly he denies his problems once he drinks again.

Having said that, here come my issues with the movie. First, there are, I believe, two scenes where nudity is used, maybe in an attempt to set the feel for the movie, yet both seemed pretty unnecessary. We get it first with the opening scene, Whittaker wakes up to a phone call from his wife, while the flight attendant he’s fooling around with walks around the room dressing up. And, as lovely as she looked in the scene, it just felt more like something that was put into the story as Oscar bait more than something that actually betters the film. The second time may have been slightly better, but if it was, it wasn’t by much. It was when Nicole came to her porn director friend to try to score some drugs. The director proceded to have one of the male actors disrobe in front of Nicole to convince her to join the porn film. Here at least the nudity was used to show the shady world that Nicole was in before she met Whitaker.

My second issue with the movie, was the soundtrack. The problem isn’t that they chose songs I dislike, but that the music was clearly picked to help lock up an Oscar nomination than as something that betters a scene. In Almost Famous, a similar 70s rock style soundtrack was used, but there it at least made sense. The movie took place in the 70s, the plot was about 70s music, and the characters included 70s musicians, so while there was an excess of it, it was appropriate.  Here we had Joe Cocker, Cowboy Junkies, two Rolling Stones songs, John Lee Hooker, Marvin Gaye, and so on. At times I kept forgetting that the movie takes place in present day, because the music chosen was chosen for its fame and its history of being in other critically acclaimed films. In particular, I can remember thinking how Sympathy for the Devil did not fit John Goodman’s character at all, which they made as the theme song for his character. There are dozens of songs that are less dated that could have done a much better job of fitting Goodman’s character, but the film went with the Stones because of the songs popularity and because they thought it would make the film seem more oscar worthy. It was a mistake, the movie would have probably gotten an Oscar nod even without its powerhouse choice of songs.

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(Spoilers Below)

My biggest issue with the movie, however, was its ending. From the moment Whitaker confesses everything to the start of the closing credits was completely forgettable. First, I don’t buy that Whitaker would have ever confessed in that moment. He was drunk, he was high, and he’s done much worse things in his life than having to lie in that moment. We’ve also been shown through the entire movie that he will defend himself against everything, and can’t fight against his addictions. A point that was made beautiful in the hotel room; he picked out a small vodka bottle, opened it, then put it on the fridge and walked away, only to grab it again three seconds later, because no matter how hard he tries, he’ll always find his way back to it. So at that point he doesn’t have a problem with his toxicology report being thrown away, he doesn’t have a problem with ruining his relationship with his ex-wife and son. But this was where he decided that enough was enough? Sorry, I just don’t buy it. So he goes to jail, and the last scene is him reuniting with his son to do an interview for a school paper, at which point the film brings back the smoking gun from a few scenes earlier. When we first meet the son, Whitaker says, “You don’t even know me,” and the son replies, “that’s right I don’t know you!” Pretty lame exchange, but fine. Fast forward to the last scene and the last thing we get from the movie is the son asking, “so, who are you?” Please, that’s some pretty terrible faux sappy writing; an ending that’s clearly trying to make the film worthy of and Oscar, but so out of character from what was depicted in the rest of the movie. The ending could have been so much darker, and so much better. It could have ended with him finishing his lie during his hearing, then going home and breaking down and crying at how much he’s ruined his own life. Then he recomposes himself, makes another drink and sits back down in front of the tv, to watch more home videos between him and his son, knowing that he’ll never have a good relationship with him again. The final shot would be of the profile of his face, dead eyes staring at the screen, and the screen slowly fades to black. For me, that would have been such a more realistic ending than the sap fest they gave us.

I don’t want any of you getting the wrong impression, I really did like this movie. It was definitely worth seeing, and I’ll probably see it a bunch more times once it shows up on the movie channels. It’s just a bit irksome how obvious they made it that they were working for an Oscar here; If they just let the movie speak for itself, they could have really pushed it from just being good to being great.

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