Hey, I’m back, with a blog post, even! And not one about how I haven’t blogged in a while! No, instead, since I’ve been going to the movies a lot lately, I decided to round up the last four films I’ve seen and review them in capsule form. By way of getting back on the horse, kind of thing. Some of these are probably out of theaters by now, but I really don’t give a shit.
It ain't perfect. The ending, which of course milks for the greatest suspense possible the extraction of the diplomats, is a bit silly in the way Affleck piles on the obstacles. Two or three could have been left out with no problem, especially the ones you can tell never actually happened, such as Arkin and Goodman needing to get to their office so they can answer a very important phone call and being held up by a PA who's frankly too big for his britches, if you want the honest truth. Also handicapping things is Affleck himself. His performance as Mendez is probably the worst, or anyway least successful in the film. I know Affleck is a not-untalented actor, but he plays Mendez as a man with no muscles in his face and a throat condition that renders his voice incapable of inflection. Because I do know that Affleck is better than this, the question then becomes "Why?" and I have to figure, in keeping with certain ideas illustrated throughout the film, the thinking was that Mendez was just a guy doing his job. He wasn't a movie hero, in other words, and Affleck -- correctly, I'd say -- finds the truth of people like him to be more heroic. It's just that I imagine the real Mendez looks and talks like a person. But never mind -- it may be Argo's biggest flaw, but it's almost thoroughly overshadowed by an otherwise slick and entertaining thriller.
Flight is not otherwise bereft of good moments. It's an intriguing story, too, a nicely ambiguous one about who is to blame for this crash, which, while successful in relative terms, nevertheless did take the lives of six people, including a flight attendant (Nadine Velazquez) with whom Whip had been partying the night before. We know Washington's character is completely fucked up as a person, but nothing he did seems to have caused the plane to malfunction. But routine toxicology tests still reveal what he's been up to, and his guilt, his duplicity, and his eventual full-on scumbaggery can be pretty fascinating. Any scene Washington shares with Bruce Greenwood as his friend and union rep, and/or Don Cheadle as his attorney, are pretty much bound to be gripping on some level, just by virtue of the acting talent on display. But Flight is still a terrible mess, sometimes shockingly clumsy, sometimes shockingly thoughtless. An entire subplot involving Kelly Reilly as an ex-junkie exists only so someone can walk in on a drunk or blacked-out Washington and be disappointed in him. Worse, the use of songs, from "Gimme Shelter" to "Feelin' Alright" to "Under the Bridge" to "Sympathy for the Devil" (played first when we meet John Goodman's character, Washington's likable pusher (Whip's into cocaine, also)) is almost perversely literal. If the Rolling Stones had ever recorded a song called "Flying a Passenger Jet While Drunk," Zemeckis would have been all over that.
And while it’s bracing to see the lead character in an expensive studio film played by a major star as a complete piece of dogshit (and it's also interesting to see two men, the ones played by Cheadle and Greenwood, pursuing an immoral goal, but not as villains, rather as guys doing their jobs), it would have been nice if Zemeckis could have followed through. To be clear, I don’t so much mind the redemption we get, as such, and in fact I like what he and screenwriter John Gatins pulled from their back pocket by way of a catalyst for this redemption. But minutes before Whip’s conscience gets the better of him, we saw this man not only at the very nadir of his selfish and debauched existence (signaled, by the way, with some slow motion and, would you believe it, a horror movie music sting, except in this case the monster is vodka), we’d seen him rewarded for it with further debauchery. Nothing could stop or change him, which is precisely what he’d been angling for this whole time. But then, nope, changed my mind, I feel bad now. I’ve heard some complain that the depiction of Whip’s alcoholism is over the top, but he’s not shown doing anything that a real person who’d achieved that ranking in alcoholism wouldn’t do. The problem is that it would appear that Zemeckis has very little sense for this kind of thing – not in real life, because what do I know, but as a filmmaker. I feel like the whiplash of going from A Christmas Carol to Flight actually ended up on film somehow.