This weekend at the theater, Robert Zemeckis returns to the land of live-action with the Denzel Washington drama “Flight,” the videogame world is turned upside down when a villain decides to switch sides in “Wreck-It Ralph,” Wu-Tang rapper RZA makes his directing debut with the kung fu flick “The Man with the Iron Fists,” and a classical music group struggles to prevail against inner turmoil in “A Late Quartet.”
Today’s column contains my reviews of “Flight,” “Wreck-It Ralph,” and “A Late Quartet” along with my predictions about how “The Man with the Iron Fists” will be.
An airline pilot (Denzel Washington) miraculously lands his plane after an in-flight malfunction, but investigation into the incident casts public light on troubling aspects of his personal life.
Director: Robert Zemeckis (“A Christmas Carol,” “Beowulf”)
Writer: John Gatins (“Real Steel,” “Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story”)
Notable Supporting Actors: John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle, Brian Geraghty, Nadine Valazquez,
MY TAKE: Believe it or not, “Flight” is Robert Zemeckis’s first live-action film, since 2000’s “Cast Away.” Zemeckis has directed all types of tales, but over the past decade especially, he has truly embraced digital filmmaking, churning out three CG motion-capture flicks. So after 10 years of directing family-friendly animated movies, you would think he'd be a bit rusty when it comes to helming an intense R-rated drama. Thankfully he's not.
To call the first act explosive would be an understatement. From the opening moments after pilot Whip Whitaker (Washington) stumbles out of bed, you’re inherently certain that he’s on a collision course with catastrophe. Whitaker’s flight becomes a rapidly growing snowball of tension, as Zemeckis builds up to the circumstances of the crash. Once everything descends into chaos, he puts you right there on the plane, forcing you to experience this horrific and terrifying experience firsthand.
Following the crash, “Flight” settles down to become a slower-paced character drama. And although the remainder isn’t as thrilling, it’s still captivating, like a sickening accident that you can’t ignore. As one man descends into an endless spiral of substance abuse and lies, you’re constantly shocked by the moral depths that he reaches. And when he hits rock bottom, it’s difficult to find any sympathy left for him.
Denzel Washington gives a superb performance, proving once again that he’s just as skilled at playing arrogant antiheroes as he is at portraying lovable protagonists. His character is a fascinating egotist who is simultaneously haunted by crushing regret. Honorable mention should go to John Goodman, who is only around for a few minutes, but steals every scene that he’s in as Whitaker’s kooky Southern-fried drug dealer Harling Mays.
The film’s less zippy pace after the crash almost causes you to lose interest at certain points and at others, the Rolling Stones tunes make “Flight” feel a bit too much like a Scorsese rip-off. However the strong acting and the rest of the songs on the soundtrack prevent the tale from sliding into mediocrity. Regardless of whether you think Whitaker’s a jerk, you’ll still find yourself rocking out with him to the Stones, Bill Withers, Joe Cocker, and Red Hot Chili Peppers until he finds his moment of clarity.
My Grade: A-