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.
Do the Bourne movies make any sense? Enough. The first three films — The Bourne Identity Supremacy and Ultimatum — throw in just enough detail into the covert ops babble and high-speed action that by the end Jason Bourne comes out an emotional character with an evident mission. That's where Bourne Legacy drops the ball. A "sidequel" to the original trilogy Legacy follows super soldier Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) as he runs jumps and shoots his way out of the hands of his government captors. The film is identical to its predecessors; political intrigue chase scenes morally ambiguous CIA agents monitoring their man-on-the-run from a computer-filled HQ — a Bourne movie through and through. But Legacy has to dig deeper to find new ground to cover introducing elements of sci-fi into the equation. The result is surprisingly limp and even more incomprehensible.
Damon's Bourne spent three blockbusters uncovering his past erased by the assassin training program Treadstone. Renner's Alex Cross has a similar do-or-die mission: after Bourne's antics send Washington into a tizzy Cross' own training program Outcome is terminated. Unlike Bourne Cross is enhanced by "chems" (essentially steroid drugs) that keep him alive and kicking ass. When Outcome is ended Cross goes rogue to stay alive and find more pills.
Steeped heavily in the plot lines of the established mythology Bourne Legacy jumps back and forth between Cross and the clean up job of the movie's big bad (Edward Norton) and his elite squad of suits. The movie balances a lot of moving parts but the adventure never feels sprawling or all that exciting. Actress Rachel Weisz vibrant in nearly every role she takes on plays a chemist who is key to Cross' chemical woes. The two are forced into partnership Weisz limited to screaming cowering and sneaking past the occasional airport x-ray machine while her partner aggressively fistfights his way through any hurdle in his path. Renner is equally underserved. Cross is tailored to the actor's strengths — a darker more aggressive character than Damon's Bourne but with one out of every five of the character's lines being "CHEMS!" shouted at the top of his lungs Renner never has the time or the material to develop him.
Writer/director Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton Duplicity and the screenwriter of the previous three movies) is a master of dense language but his style choices can't breath life into the 21st century epic speak. In the film's necessary car chase Gilroy mimics the loose camera style of Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass without fully embracing it. The wishy washy approach sucks the life out of large-scale set pieces. The final 30 minutes of Bourne Legacy is a shaky cam naysayer's worst nightmare.
The Bourne Legacy demonstrates potential without ever kicking into high gear. One scene when Gilroy finally slows down and unleashes absolute terror on screen is striking. Unfortunately the moment doesn't involve our hero and its implications never explained. That sums up Legacy; by the film's conclusion it only feels like the first hour has played out. The movie crawls — which would be much more forgivable if the intense banter between its large ensemble carried weight. Instead Legacy packs the thrills of an airport thriller: sporadically entertaining and instantly forgettable.
Much like the movies themselves, Hans Zimmer's scores for Christopher Nolan's Batman films have pushed the envelope of blockbuster standards. Grand, dynamic, and surprisingly minimalist, the tracks that fill Batman Begins and The Dark Knight range from comic book beat-'em-up thrill rides, to emotionally devastating dirges, to white noise symphonies (only the clout of Nolan could get away with the Joker's theme "Why So Serious?"). Now, we have a first listen of Zimmer's score for The Dark Knight Rises and its equally impressive.
Yes, that's the full score for the movie, courtesy of Empire. Over the course of the 15-track soundtrack, Zimmer throws back to his previous work while continuing to innovate. Looking through the cues, there's also a lot to learn about the possible journey Batman embarks on in the picture. What happens to Mr. Bruce Wayne from beginning to end of The Dark Knight Rises? Here's an exploration of the tracks, one by one, in hopes of arriving at a great understanding. Or at least one appreciative of this fantastic score:
Warning: potential spoilers within
1. "A Storm Coming / 2. On Thin Ice"
According to The Dark Knight Rises' official synopsis, Bruce Wayne has been out of the Batman game for eight years. Zimmer's reintroduction of the character feels sullen and, well, cold (sorry: "On Thin Ice" is most likely not a Mr. Freeze reference). That might be the headspace we find Wayne in when the movie first begins. How does a man who dedicated his life to fighting crime, but is now thought of as the murderer of Harvey Dent and a menace to society, feel after nearly a decade of taking a backseat? Probably not good.
3. "Gotham's Reckoning"
Bane's theme? Loud trumpets signal like battle cries, while pounding drums hinting at the chant that Zimmer whipped up (Deh-Shay, Deh-Shay, Bah-Sah-Rah!) with the help of thousands of Internet voices. Menacing and forbidding, the track kicks into high gear when the vocals come in. We'll probably hear this cue a few times over the course of the film, but expect it to set the tone for The Dark Knight Rises in the opening moments — an attack from a parachuting Bane hinted at in the trailers.
4. "Mind If I Cut In?"
In many of The Dark Knight Rises trailers, we've seen Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) whispering a few sweet nothings — and by sweet nothings, I mean terrifyingly broad hints at the destruction of Gotham City — into the ear of Bruce Wayne. Zimmer's delicate tap of piano keys in this cue could easily fit Kyle's cat burglarizing lifestyle and ability to creep in to any situation undetected. Even a dance.
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros.]