12 November, 2012

Savannah: "Flight" (***½)

Bruce Greenwood, Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle star in "Flight"

Being able to consistently open films to big numbers at the box office takes a special kind of star-power. Denzel Washington has been a box office draw for years, while consistently putting forward intense, focused performances and routinely earning awards. Few people in the industry can match his impressive record. "Flight" gives us what Denzel does best, a mesmerizing performance in a slick Hollywood production. Except this production was shot entirely and takes place in Atlanta.

"Flight" opened nationwide last weekend, but I was able to check it out on October 28th at the Savannah Film Festival. Supporting star John Goodman and screenwriter John Gatins were in town for the festival, being honored with an Outstanding Achievement in Cinema Award and a Spotlight Award, respectively. A Q&A with the pair shed some light on the process of getting "Flight" out of Gatins' head and onto the big screen.

After years of working in the industry as a screenwriter and actor, Gatins made his directing debut in 2005 with "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story." He began writing "Flight" years ago, as a passion project, with the intention to direct it himself. After years of struggling to secure studio financing, Denzel Washington stumbled across the screenplay and called Gatins up himself to discuss the film over lunch. Soon afterwards, Robert Zemeckis contacted Gatins and "Flight" started to take off. You might remember filming taking place in Atlanta this time last year. In fact, "Flight" was among the first projects I reported about here at Reel Georgia.

Washington delivers quite possibly a career best, although I hesitate to say that about someone who has put forward so many memorable performances. The film's tone meanders a bit from an edgy drama verging on suspense to an emotional character study revolving around alcoholism and drug addiction. The film's most stirring scenes segue between the two tones appropriately; one scene being the riveting crash sequence, the other being an encounter in the hospital stairs between Washington, Kelly Reilly and James Badge Dale. While these scenes are finely tuned, the film's struggle to find a middle ground ultimately weakens it's impact. Sentimentality wins out in the end, erasing any of the sharpness we experienced early on.

John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood and Melissa Leo all lend their formidable presences to the picture, but simply aren't given much to do. Goodman is fantastic, despite only having two scenes. Cheadle and Greenwood have the most to chew on, of the four, but the film's prize supporting performance goes handily to Kelly Reilly. Her damaged junkie-on-the-upswing comes virtually out of nowhere and becomes more of a focal point than perhaps the filmmakers intended; a good thing.

"Flight" is an actor's showcase. The film's success at the box office might play well for Washington and possibly Reilly come ballot time. Regardless of their success on the awards circuit, "Flight" is another solid, commercial entry into Georgia's production library.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

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