Robert Zemeckis is a blockbuster director at heart. Action has never been an issue for the man behind Back to the Future. When he puts aside the high concept adventures for emotional human stories — think Forrest Gump or Cast Away — he still goes big. His latest Flight continues the trend revolving the story of one man's fight with alcoholism around a terrifying plane crash. Zemeckis expertly crafts his roaring centerpiece and while he finds an agile performer in Denzel Washington the hour-and-a-half of Flight after the shocking moment can't sustain the power. The "big" works. The intimate drowns.
Washington stars as Whip Whitaker a reckless airline pilot who balances his days flying jumbo jets with picking up women snorting lines of cocaine and drinking himself to sleep. Although drunk for the flight that will change his life forever that's not the reason the plane goes down — in fact it may be the reason he thinks up his savvy landing solution in the first place. Writer John Gatins follows Whitaker into the aftermath madness: an investigation of what really happened during the flight Whitaker's battle to cap his addictions and budding relationships that if nurtured could save his life.
Zemeckis tops his own plane crash in Cast Away with the heart-pounding tailspin sequence (if you've ever been scared of flying before Flight will push into phobia territory). In the few scenes after the literal destruction Washington is able to convey an equal amount of power in the moments of mental destruction. Whitaker is obviously crushed by the events the bottle silently calling for him in every down moment. Flight strives for that level of introspection throughout eventually pairing Washington with equally distraught junkie Nicole (Kelly Reilly). Their relationship is barely fleshed out with the script time and time again resorting to obvious over-the-top depictions of substance abuse (a la Nic Cage's Leaving Las Vegas) and the bickering that follows. Washington's Whitaker hits is lowest point early sitting there until the climax of the film.
Sharing screentime with the intimate tale is the surprisingly comical attempt by the pilot's airline union buddy (Bruce Greenwood) and the company lawyer (Don Cheadle) to get Whitaker into shape. Prepping him for inquisitions looking into evidence from the wreckage and calling upon Whitaker's dealer Harling (John Goodman) to jump start their "hero" when the time is right the two men do everything they can to keep any blame being placed upon Whitaker by the National Transportation Safety Board investigators. The thread doesn't feel relevant to Whitaker's plight and in turn feels like unnecessary baggage that pads the runtime.
Everything in Fight shoots for the skies — and on purpose. The music is constantly swelling the photography glossy and unnatural and rarely do we breach Washington's wild exterior for a sense of what Whitaker's really grappling with. For Zemeckis Flight is still a spectacle film with Washington's ability to emote as the magical special effect. Instead of using it sparingly he once again goes big. Too big.
There's an allure to imperfection. With his latest drama Lawless director John Hillcoat taps directly into the side of human nature that draws us to it. Hillcoat finds it in Prohibition history a time when the regulations of alcohol consumption were subverted by most of the population; He finds it in the rural landscapes of Virginia: dingy raw and mesmerizing. And most importantly he finds it in his main character Jack Bondurant (Shia LaBeouf) the scrappy third brother of a moonshining family who is desperate to prove his worth. Jack forcefully injects himself into the family business only to discover there's an underbelly to the underbelly. Lawless is a beautiful film that's violent as hell striking in a way only unfiltered Americana could be.
Acting as the driver for his two outlaw brothers Forrest (Tom Hardy) and Howard (Jason Clarke) isn't enough for Jack. He's enticed by the power of the gangster figure and entranced by what moonshine money can buy. So like any fledgling entrepreneur Jack takes matters into his own hands. Recruiting crippled family friend/distillery mastermind Cricket (Dane DeHaan) the young whippersnapper sets out to brew his own batch sell it to top dog Floyd Banner and make the family rich. The plan works — but it puts the Bondurant boys in over their heads with a new threat: the corrupt law enforcers of Chicago.
Unlike many stories of crime life Lawless isn't about escalation. The movie drifts back and forth leisurely popping in moments like the beats of a great TV episode. One second the Bondurants could be talking shop with their female shopkeep Maggie Beauford (Jessica Chastain). The next Forrest is beating the bloody pulp out of a cop blackmailing their operation. The plot isn't thick; Hillcoat and screenwriter Nick Cave preferring to bask in the landscapes the quiet moments the haunting terror that comes with a life on the other side of the tracks. A feature film doesn't offer enough time for Lawless to build — it recalls cinema-level TV currently playing on outlets like HBO and AMC that have truly spoiled us — but what the duo accomplish is engrossing.
Accompanying the glowing visuals and Cave's knockout workout on the music side (a toe-tapping mix of spirituals bluegrass and the writer/musician's spine-tingling violin) are muted performances from some of Hollywood's rising stars. Despite LaBeouf's off-screen antics he lights up Lawless and nails the in-deep whippersnapper. His playful relationship with a local religious girl (Mia Wasikowska) solidifies him as a leading man but like everything in the movie you want more. Tom Hardy is one of the few performers who can "uurrr" and "mmmnerm" his way through a scene and come out on top. His greatest sparring partner isn't a hulking thug but Chastain who brings out the heart of the impenetrable beast. The real gem of Lawless is Guy Pearce as the Bondurant trio's biggest threat. Shaved eyebrows pristine city clothes and a temper like a rabid wolverine Pearce's Charlie Rakes is the most frightening villain of 2012. He viciously chews up every moment he's on screen. That's even before he starts drawing blood.
Lawless is the perfect movie for the late August haze — not quite the Oscary prestige picture or the summertime shoot-'em-up. It's drama that has its moonshine and swigs it too. Just don't drink too much.
The stars of this week's newest contenders for the box office crown, psuedo-CGI beauty Simone and the lovely Liz Hurley, sure would have looked nice wearing it, but they didn't have a prayer against Mel Gibson's former priest in Signs.
As box office dollars dwindle with the waning summer, the supernatural thriller won the heated battle for first place with a mere $14.3 million, while xXx failed to meet expectations that it would be the summer's first three-peat at No. 1 with $13.7 million.
Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams climbed a notch to third place, taking in $7.8 million in its third week.
The indie sleeper My Big Fat Greek Wedding continued to climb up the box office chart in its 19th week. With a $7.5 million weekend take, it came in at No. 4.
This weekend's new releases, including Serving Sara, Simone and Undisputed, hardly put up a fight for the top spot. These wide releases weren't expected to cause a commotion, though, since they each opened in fewer than 3,000 theaters.
In limited release, One Hour Photo, which opened Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles, grossed $315,000 from only seven theaters for a strong $45,000 average per theater.
This weekend's top 12 films were down about 21 percent from last year with $63.8 million versus 2001's $81.6 million. It was the sixth consecutive weekend the box office was down versus last year. The top 12 films were down about 35 percent compared to last weekend's box office, which grossed $99.1 million.
THE TOP TEN
Buena Vista/Touchstone's prediction that Signs would rise to the top once again came true. The PG-13 rated supernatural thriller took top honors with an ESTIMATED $14.3 million (-26%) at 3,453 theaters (+109 theaters; $4,159 per theater). Its cume is approximately $173.2 million.
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, it stars Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix.
Revolution Studios and Columbia's PG-13 action adventure thriller xXx lost its bid for first place, slipping to a close second with an ESTIMATED $13.7 million (-38%) at 3517 theaters (+129 theaters; $3,895 per theater). Its cume is approximately $106.7 million, making it the 13th film released this year to cross the $100 million mark.
Directed by Rob Cohen, it stars Vin Diesel, Asia Argento and Marton Csokas.
Miramax/Dimension Films' PG rated family comedy Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams gained one spot this week, coming in third place in its third week with an ESTIMATED $7.8 million (-32%) at 3,307 theaters (theater count unchanged; per theater average dropped to a weak $2,359). Its cume is approximately $58.5 million.
Directed by Robert Rodriguez, it stars Antonio Banderas and Carla Gugino.
IFC Films' PG rated comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding continued to expand in its 19th week, climbing two notches to fourth place with an ESTIMATED $7.5 million at 1329 theaters (+269 theaters; $5,702 per theater). Its cume is approximately $61 million.
Directed by Joel Zwick, it stars Nia Vardalos and John Corbett.
Universal Picture's PG-13 rated surfer girl pic Blue Crush placed fifth in its second week with an ESTIMATED $6.5 million at 3,015 theaters (+13 theaters; $2.156 per theater).
Directed by John Stockwell, it stars Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez, Matthew Davis and Sanoe Lake.
Paramount's PG-13 rated romantic comedy Serving Sara fared best of the week's new releases and opened sixth to an ESTIMATED $6 million at 2154 theaters ($2,820 per theater).
Directed by Reginald Hudlin, it stars Elizabeth Hurley and Matthew Perry.
New Line's PG-13 rated comedy Austin Powers in Goldmember fell two pegs to seventh place in its fifth week with a not so shagadellic ESTIMATED $5.6 million (-36%) at 2,805 theaters (-308 theaters; $2,005 per theater). Its cume is approximately $193.9 million.
Directed by Jay Roach, it stars Mike Myers, Beyonce Knowles and Michael Caine.
Miramax's R rated urban drama Undisputed opened eighth with an ESTIMATED $4.7 million at only 1,102 theaters, with a solid $4,265 per theater average.
Directed by Walter Hill, it stars Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames.
New Line Cinema's sophisticated PG-13 rated comedy Simone opened ninth with an ESTIMATED $4 million at 1,920 theaters ($2,109 per theater).
Directed by Andrew Niccol, it stars Al Pacino, Catherine Keener and Evan Rachel Wood.
Rounding out the Top Ten was Warner Bros.' R rated thriller Blood Work, which took in an ESTIMATED $2.8 million at 2,203 theaters ($1,298 per theater).
Produced and directed by Clint Eastwood, it stars Eastwood.
This weekend also saw the arrival of Fox Searchlight's R rated drama One Hour Photo to an encouraging ESTIMATED $315,000 at seven theaters (a whopping $45,000 per theater).
Directed by Mark Romanek, it stars Robin Williams, Connie Nielsen and Michael Vartan.
Fox Searchlight also saw its R rated comedy The Good Girl gain two notches as it expanded this week with an ESTIMATED $1.5 million at 188 theaters (+128 theaters; $8,245 per theater). Its cume after three weeks is approximately $3.1 million.
Directed by Miguel Arteta, it stars Jennifer Aniston, Jake Gyllenhaal and John C. Reilly.