Director: James Ponsoldt
Starring: Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Kyle Chandler, Bob Odenkirk
High school senior Sutter Keely is a charming, fun guy, loved by everyone and the life of any party. Sutter lives in the moment, he lives for the now. But as he and his friends approach their high school graduation he finds that everyone else is looking forward, thinking of the future, making plans.
Through a chance encounter he meets Aimee Fineky. A shy, reserved girl, she knows him from school even though to him she has previously been invisible. Sutter finds something fascinating about Aimee, and she enjoys the attention. They become friends and ultimately come to love each other (but is that the same thing as being in love with each other?). Aimee and Sutter provide each other with much needed support. Both come from broken homes with absent fathers, Sutter’s through divorce and Aimee’s through death.
Sutter is a self-destructive character whose emphasis on the here and now is the result of an inability to deal with the past or face the future. He uses alcohol as a coping mechanism, constantly sipping from a hipflask he carries with him – a habit he soon transfers on Aimee – rarely getting excessively drunk but always having a buzz on. This insidious and constant presence of alcohol is much more confronting and uncomfortable than the usual representations of teen drinking we see on screen (massive party binging followed by throwing up and the rubbing or sore heads the next morning), and before long you find yourself willing him to stop.
The characters of Sutter and Aimee have a realism to them that you rarely find in screen teenagers. They look like real teenagers, not thirty year olds in backpacks. They sound like real teenagers, not the razor sharp fantasies of an all-too-clever screenwriter. The two young leads, Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, are not household names but their performances carry this film. The two, who work so well together it is difficult to consider their performances separately, deliver incredibly authentic portrayals of teenage lovers dealing with all the confusion and uncertainty of youth. The pair received a Special Jury Prize for Acting at this year’s Sundance Film Festival “for two young actors who showed rare honesty, naturalism and transparency and whose performances brought out the best in each other,” an apt description of what they bring to this film.
From the screenwriters who delivered the gem 500 Days of Summer a couple of years ago, The Spectacular Now is a film that requires some time to process. It leaves you with a number of questions, resisting the urge to wrap everything up in a nice neat bow. The result is an honest and affecting film, a teenage love story for adults which doesn’t trivialise the teenage experience.
Rating – ★★★☆
Review by Duncan McLean
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, Don Cheadle, John Goodman
Captain ‘Whip’ Whitaker is piloting a commercial flight from Orlando to Atlanta when an equipment malfunction causes the plane to nosedive from 30,000 feet. Whitaker manages to perform a miraculous manoeuvre to clear a residential area and bring it down in a field. Only six of the 102 souls on board lose their life and Whitaker is hailed as a hero. However, routine toxicology reports after the crash reveal something that Whitaker has managed to keep secret his whole career. Whip Whitaker is an alcoholic and a drug user, a revelation that could have a devastating effect on his career.
Flight sees director Robert Zemeckis return to live action filmmaking after a decade in which he was an industry leader in the exploration of motion capture. It also marks a departure for the director in terms of tone. Zemeckis started his career as a Steven Spielberg protégé and with films like Back to the Future, Forrest Gump, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and The Polar Express his body of work has maintained that whimsical, Spielbergian sense of fun. Flight goes somewhere much darker, tackling the serious subjects of alcoholism and addiction. Despite a couple of moments that lacked a bit of subtlety, Zemeckis handles the material very competently.
Flight doesn’t over-simplify Whip’s alcoholism, but allows for complexity in the exploration of a complex issue. The film would have been much more straightforward, and much less interesting, had Whip’s alcoholism been the cause of the crash. But as it is, screenwriter John Gatins makes Whitaker the hero of the incident. He is an excellent pilot. It is on the ground, in his private life, that he can’t function.
Most of the noise around Flight has concerned the performance of Denzel Washington, who gives a powerful performance as Whitaker and has rightfully been nominated for a Best Actor award at the upcoming Oscars. Playing believable drunk without going over-the-top is not as easy as you’d imagine. Aside from his incredible talent, what really makes his performance work is the brilliant ‘against type’ casting. As an audience we associate Denzel Washington’s characters with qualities like honour, strength of character, courage and determination. His performance as quite an unsympathetic character in Flight works against all those associations we have and leaves us really conflicted by Whip. Working against type is something Washington has done before with great success, most notably in his Oscar winning performance in Training Day.
There are also some strong supporting performances. Most notable is Kelly Reilly who plays Nicole, a drug addict who Whip meets in hospital and befriends. Nicole becomes the emotional centre of the film. Her character is so important because she provides the contrast to Whip. Despite struggling with the same issues of addiction that Whip is, their approaches are completely different. She is determined to get better. He lives in denial. She is open. He is defensive. Nicole is as sympathetic a character as Whip is unsympathetic. Also, John Goodman – one of the best character actors working today – provides some humour in his role as Whip’s friend and supplier.
Flight is a good film carried by a great leading performance. It is a powerful exploration of the impact of alcoholism on a person and those people around them.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean