Sunday, 27 January 2013

‘Flight’ [Updated]

Denzel Washington and the less frequently mentioned Kelly Reilly convincingly portray a drunk and a heroin user respectively, but leave it to Hollywood to wimp out and give us a cozy morality tale in Flight rather than a more, shall we say, sober view of the phenomenon of addiction. [Photo: Washington and Don Cheadle,]

No spoiler coming here for anyone who hasn’t got around to seeing the movie, but suffice it to say that the juvenile ending undermines the skillfully built narrative and turns this promising film into a forgettable piece of studio fluff. Imagine the same story in the hands of Michael Hanecke or another European director not tempted by the rewards of a cheap finale.

Okay sure, movies are supposed to provide escape sometimes, but why is the pablum we’re served up based on the infantilizing insistence that we get that diet ALL the time? Isn’t there some room for cinematic literature that goes beyond the Dr Feelgood adult equivalent of a Punch and Judy show? Are we really so undeveloped as to need to ‘identify’ with a figure on the screen and then root for them for two hours until the inevitable moral tag appears with the credits? Can’t we have grown-up entertainment?

[Update] After writing this post a few days ago, I stumbled across an interview with the wonderful retiring film director Steven Soderbergh in New York magazine that perfectly illuminated what I was trying to get at:

‘But the alarming thing I learned during [the filming of] Contagion is that the people who pay to make the movies and the audiences who see them are actually very much in sync. I remember during the previews how upset the audience was by the Jude Law character. The fact that he created a sort of mixed reaction was viewed as a flaw in the filmmaking. Not, “Oh, that’s interesting. I’m not sure if this guy is an asshole or a hero.” People were really annoyed by that. And I thought, Wow, so ambiguity is not on the table anymore! They were angry’.

Exactly. Denzel Washington is an uneasy mess for 3/4 of Flight, a real person with moles and blemishes. Then he morphs into a cartoon character, someone we can ‘identify’ with, god help us. And the movie is destroyed.

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