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Fall Movie Pros & Cons: Robert Zemeckis’ ‘Flight’ Starring Denzel Washington

Fall Movie Pros & Cons: Robert Zemeckis' 'Flight' Starring Denzel Washington

Over the next couple of weeks, we’re casting an eye on the unknown quantities of the fall season; the films which haven’t yet been unveiled at festivals, and are set to big news in multiplexes between now and the end of 2012. From what we know about them already, do they have the potential to be masterpieces, or disappointments? After starting off with a peek at Steven Spielberg‘s “Lincoln,” with the verdict on the film following soon after, we’re with another NYFF film from a legendary director.

In this case, it’s the festival’s closing film “Flight,” which marks the return the first live action film in twelve years from Robert Zemeckis. Are you confident that it’ll see the filmmaker back on form? Or does the Denzel Washington vehicle leave you cold? Let us know in the comments section below.


The Case For:
After “The Polar Express,” “Beowulf” and “A Christmas Carol,” even those who weren’t particularly invested in Robert Zemeckis were practically begging him to leave the uncanny valley and make a return to live-action filmmaking. But when it came, it wasn’t with an event picture or family-friendly film, and instead, it’s the kind of movie that supposedly doesn’t get made anymore: a modestly-budgeted star-driven drama aimed at adults. And that on its own is kind of exciting.

John Gatins‘ script for “Flight” had been knocking around Hollywood for a few years now, but once Zemeckis decided to take it on, the picture came together in lightning time, with Denzel Washington heading up a cast that matches up reliable character actor favorites (John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, Melissa Leo), with rising stars (Kelly Reilly, James Badge Dale, Brian Geraghty). And the premise is certainly a potent one. Washington plays an airline pilot who becomes a hero after landing a plane during an emergency, only for it to emerge that he had alcohol in his system during the flight from binge partying the night before — and that’s a federal crime. The international poster bills it as “the most provocative film of the year,” which certainly suggests it’s not going to be pulling its punches.

The conceit has the potential to be Washington’s best showcase in years, with some meaty parts in support too — we’ve heard good things about Cheadle, Greenwood, Goodman and Reilly in particular. Indeed, the buzz on the grapevine, to mix a metaphor, has been that the film really delivers as the kind of smart drama that’s become semi-endangered within the studio system. That it’s closing the New York Film Festival this weekend bodes fairly well for studio confidence in the movie, with Paramount is said to be planning a major awards push for Washington’s performance.

The Case Against:
Sure, last year’s NYFF closer was “The Descendants,” but the year before was the clunky Clint Eastwood film “Hereafter,” so let’s not start making any broad sweeping statements about quality based on festival positions. And if Paramount are emphasizing Washington’s performance in their awards campaign, is that a vote of confidence, or is it an indicator that he works better than the movie does?

Because for all the good buzz, and all the promise of the idea, the trailer was a mess, looking like a clash of four or five wildly different movies — dark comedy, addiction drama, conspiracy thriller, disaster movie — capped off with the flying-a-plane-upside-down CGI money shot that came across as silly, rather than exciting. Will Zemeckis be able to meld the seemingly disparate tones better than Paramount’s ad guys?

We certainly hope so, but he’s always had something of a patchy track record. Zemeckis might be the man behind the practically perfect “Back To The Future,” but there’s some spotty credits on the CV too, not least everything he’s made since “Cast Away” (which is, at least, the closest thing on his resume to “Flight.”). And while we’ve heard praise for Gatins’ script over the years, his previous credits aren’t wildly inspiring — Freddie Prinze Jr. rom-com “Summer Catch,” a few other sporting dramas, and last year’s “Real Steel.”

We’ve got our fingers, crossed, certainly. We wouldn’t consider the film turning out to be a solid but unexceptional commercial drama as a loss, exactly. But can it be more? We’ll find out on Sunday — stay tuned for our review.

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