Is it too early to remake Flight?

denzel flight

‘Flight’ has all of the ingredients for greatness, but is hindered by overwrought music cues and emotional manipulation. Is it too early to find someone with a more gentle touch to remake it?

 

I’ve been looking forward to Flight since I first saw the trailer months ago. The plot immediately hooked me: “What if Captain Sully was drunk when he landed that plane?” Because, let’s be real: the inspiration for Flight clearly came from Captain Sully’s infamous and heroic 2009 landing of an American Airlines plane in the Hudson River. From the folksy name, “Whip Whitaker” to the eerily matter-of-fact black box recording, Whitaker is an alternate version of Sullenberger. However, while Sullenberger proved to be squeaky clean and was able to weather the media storm while remaining a hero, Whitaker does not. This is a compelling story and as a whole, Flight works. However, I couldn’t help but imagine how amazing it would be in someone else’s hands.

As Ivey mentioned in his review of Flight, the film turns out to be a study in addiction. Denzel Washington gives one of the best performances of his career, further cementing his status as one of those rare actors about whom that statement can be sincerely made after nearly all of his films. The audience hates Whip, then they love him. Sympathy, revulsion, pity; Washington expertly leads us down all of these paths. He’s also bolstered by an incredible supporting cast that includes such heavy-hitters as Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, and relative newcomer (at least to American audiences), Kelly Reilly. Killer story, fantastic acting, and tension that was positively palpable at times. Flight has all of the ingredients for an amazing movie, but I spent so much of it rolling my eyes so hard I thought they were going to pop out of my skull.

When you have all of those ingredients, you stand back and let them cook –you don’t keep maniacally stirring the pot.
Flight first lost me when we’re first getting to know Nicole (Reilly). Director Robert Zemeckis takes great pains to let us know that she is a VERY FUCKED UP PERSON. She’s stumbling out of her apartment, wheedling for heroin from porn directors, and lying to everyone with whom she comes in contact. This is enough to set up the fact that girlfriend has some issues. In fact, by the time she’s indignantly screaming that she doesn’t do anal, we’re already teetering on the edge of overdoing it.

Zemeckis quickly pushes us right off that cliff with a scene of Nicole doing heroin that is only slightly less ridiculous than Jessie Spano’s bout with pills on Saved By the Bell.The scene not only features photos of her cancer mom, and camera work that goes, “Cancer mom. Needle. Cancer mom. Vein. Cancer mom,” but is actually set to “Under the Bridge,” the Red Hot Chili Peppers song that is literally about doing heroin.

Dear God, WE GET IT.

It was at about this point that I started wondering what Flight would look like if someone like Ryan Fleck, who co-wrote and directed Half Nelson, were in charge.

Like Flight, Half Nelson features a likeable character whose addiction stands in the way of personal greatness. But unlike Flight, the performances are not hindered by overwrought music cues or emotionally manipulative camera work.

Half Nelson is spare and quiet; the opposite of the lush, larger-than-life Flight. Where Denzel Washington’s most powerful moments are all but drowned out by music cues (This one means that he is redeeming himself!!!!), Ryan Gosling faced no such fight in Half Nelson. The film is quiet and the camera stays on him in such an intimate way that the audience feels as though they are struggling with him. They can feel the hope; the lies; and ultimately the disappointment. With Flight, I just felt like I had to fight through everything to get to what mattered.

Zemeckis hasn’t done a live-action movie since 2000′s Cast Away. Since then, he’s been focusing on dead-eyed cartoons like Polar Express, so it makes sense that he’s forgotten what to do with living, breathing, flesh-and-bones actors. A heart-warming animated tale about a child rediscovering the joys of Christmas demands a different touch. Unfortunately, the feel is ultimately the same. When you have Denzel Washington, your job should be easy. You set up the camera and you walk away. When you return, there will be magic. Instead, Flight proves that bigger does not always equal better. Maybe one day, someone can come along and remake it with a more gentle touch.

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Photo Credit: Paramount

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