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Capone finds FLIGHT firmly grounded in rich characters, solid drama, and great acting!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

Regardless of what you might think you know or expect about the first live-action Robert Zemeckis film since 2000's Cast Away, what you actually see will surprise you, because Flight isn't just one type of film. Above all things, the film is a hardcore, rough-around-the-edges drama that begins with a horrific but spectacular plane crash in which pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is able to put his disintegrating plane down in an empty field with minimal loss of life. He is hailed as a hero by the media almost immediately, but as the facts in the accident start to come out, it becomes clear the Whip was not in complete control of his faculties (or was he?) when he boarded the aircraft that fateful morning.

While the trailers for FLIGHT make it look like some kind of cross between a mystery, thriller, courtroom drama about whether or not Whip was drunk while flying the plane, you'll know from the first scene that he absolutely was drunk, with a little cocaine thrown in for good measure. He'd also spent most of the night before partying and having sex with one of the flight attendants (Nadine Velazquez). So, you see: there's no mystery here at all.

What FLIGHT actually is is something much more complex, dark and layered. It's a brilliant character study of a man who has spent most of his adult life being a selfish prick and a raging alcoholic. He sacrificed his marriage and his relationship with his son just so he could drink freely and not take shit for it. I honestly don't remember the last time Washington inhabited a character so ferociously to his core, to the point where it feels like an honor just to watch him play this toxic human wasteland.

What the film does so perfectly is spend much of its two-and-a-half hours is ripping away the layers of armor Whip has bolted to his flesh. We've seen movies about drunks for decades, and they all have their reasons, but writer John Gatins does marvelous work at getting into the dark soul of this man to find the raging pain that he's attempting the drown every chance he gets.

But on a larger scale, FLIGHT is also about the value of the truth. Even once suspicions arise that Whip was intoxicated (probably just enough to keep him flying at his peak), there are those on both sides of the investigative fence who are willing to bury that information to keep up the impression that the world has another much-needed hero in its midst. The crackling Don Cheadle plays Chicago lawyer (because we know lawyers from Chicago have that extra layer of slick) Hugh Lang, whose expertise is never losing court cases and getting crucial evidence tossed out. He's up against lead National Transportation Safety Board attorney Ellen Block (Melissa Leo), doing a bit of manipulating herself, and she's quite good at it. But the hearings about the flight are the least interesting things about this movie.

A sizable portion of FLIGHT isn't about Washington at all, or at least not just about him. We also get to know a woman named Nicole (Kelly Reilly, best known in America as Dr. Watson's wife in the SHERLOCK HOLMES movies), an addict and sometimes prostitute who meets Whip in the hospital right after the crash; she's in for a drug overdose. But for some reason, after sharing a cigarette in a hospital stairwell, the two cling to each other for some kind of twisted salvation. And for a time, it actually works. He dumps all of his booze in the sink, and she stops getting high, and they immediately move in together at his family farm away from the reporters waiting outside his home.

Their relationship is the emotional core of the film, and when she decides to leave, it destroys him and brings to task all of the terrible things he's done in his life (and will likely do again). The sequences with Whip falling off the wagon hard are ugly, tense and draining to watch, but watch them you will because it's impossible not to.

Also along for the ride are Bruce Greenwood as a liaison from the pilots union and old friend, who helps Whip get his story straight and his act together as best he can; Tamara Tune, terrific as one of the other flight attendants on that fateful crash who knows what she saw but is so grateful for living that she may not say a word to the investigators; and John Goodman, who is a joy to see as Whip's jovial drug dealer, but we also know that when he's around, Whip's sobriety will suffer. Goodman's only in a couple of scenes, but he makes a substantial impact. One of the more interesting characters is Brian Geraghty as Whip's co-pilot Ken Evans, a deeply religious man who is severely injured in the crash and is truly torn by what to say to the investigators as well. He's actually angry that he even has to consider lying because he's afraid he'll go to hell for doing so.

What especially shocking about FLIGHT is that it comes from Zemeckis, a fine filmmaker, but one who has specialized in movies aimed at all audiences (the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy, FORREST GUMP, WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT) that have become staples in pop culture. His latest work is not only a hard, R-rated (for nudity, drug use, language, a bit of violence... you name it), but it's also a mature, thoughtful piece that pulls no punches in its depiction of substance abuse and makes very few excuses for a whole lot of bad behavior.

With some of the best acting you'll see all year, FLIGHT is the type of absorbing work that will take you in its grip, never let you go, and might even shake you around a bit. This one sticks with you long after the credits stop rolling, and hopefully opens up entire new avenues for a director I thought I had pegged years ago.

-- Steve Prokopy
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Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 3, 2012, 3:59 p.m. CST

    Nadine Velazquez naked.

    by Raptor Jesus

    I'm going Monday. She is so hot. Oh yeah, it looks like a pretty decent flic, too.

  • Nov. 3, 2012, 4:14 p.m. CST

    And Nadine Velasquez FULL FUCKING FRONTAL!!1!

    by Vinod

    Capone forgot the most important part.

  • Nov. 3, 2012, 4:43 p.m. CST

    you nailed it capone!

    by duke of url

    nice review! great movie! oh yea, the nudity IS SMOKING HOT!

  • Nov. 3, 2012, 4:44 p.m. CST

    Yeah she was pretty naked

    by CherryValance

    The movie was good until the ending. I wanted it to go the other way and I think it made more sense that way too. I'm gonna guess they filmed both because I can't believe that was always the plan.

  • Nov. 3, 2012, 6:40 p.m. CST

    I find it hilarious that...

    by ObnoxiousCamper

    The ad for Flight that plays on AICN (top-right corner of the page) mentions a review by ROBERT Ebert from the Chicago Sun-Times. Kudos to those in charge of marketing this flick, they can't even get the name of the most famous film critic in the US right.

  • Nov. 3, 2012, 7:20 p.m. CST

    Should have gotten Tom Cruise.

    by gruemanlives

  • Nov. 4, 2012, 1:24 a.m. CST

    great review

    by Anthony Torchia

    just saw Flight, 3 out 4 starts for me Great acting, Zemeckis surprised me too the ending was a little too "Hollywood" for my taste, if you know what I mean (if I know what I mean too)

  • Cannibalism? Please tell me Denzel Washington eats someone during one of his coke-fuelled rampages.

  • Nov. 4, 2012, 8:49 a.m. CST

    Great Review If...

    by Mark

    ...the reviewer knew who the hell is in the movie. It's Tamara TUNIE, Capone. She just happens to be in an NBC series that's somewhat popular and in its 14th season, and she is considerably more famous and accomplished than Nadine Velasquez, whose primary qualification to even be mentioned in this review seems to be her willingness to display her genitalia on film.

  • Nov. 4, 2012, 7:16 p.m. CST

    My God Nadine. My God. COCAIIIIIINE!!!!!

    by Stuntcock Mike

  • Nov. 4, 2012, 11:34 p.m. CST

    Borrows a lot from "The Pilot"

    by gun_will_travel

    Cliff Robertson movie about an alcoholic pilot who averts a flight disaster.

  • Nov. 5, 2012, 1:57 a.m. CST

    Actually the ending isn't too holywood (major spoilers below)

    by Brodie Watson

    I know people in recovery who I've met in prison who have said exactly what he has said that he is more free even though he's inside prison because he's managed to beat his addiction one day at a time. This is an amazing story of disease and recovery. Those people in prison who have managed to battle their demons and come out of prison sober on the other side personal heroes of mine.

  • Nov. 5, 2012, 11:26 a.m. CST

    Leave after the crash

    by Craig

    At that point you've seen all of the good stuff.

  • Nov. 6, 2012, 6:03 p.m. CST

    Amen to that i_like_vertigo

    by thot

    The plane crash sequence was incredible and then the movie died a long and painful death. I kept waiting for something,..anything to happen that could have elevated the film from the Lifetime Channel bore that it was. Denzel is always stellar, even if the movie isn't. I went to see it with my wife and a couple of friends. No one liked it. Total silence as the credits rolled.