Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Cinema Review - Flight

Consistency is something we rarely see within the harem of actors on screen these days but in Denzel Washington Hollywood has a man who has remained at the top of his game for years on end. From painstaking drama in Philadelphia to vengeance-bringer in Man On Fire, Washington’s work with characters has varied from year to year bringing us a glistening showcase of why he remains one of today’s best acts around. For his latest film, Washington teams with Robert Zemeckis for the director’s first live-action outing since 2000, and it sure is worth the wait.
Flight opens with Captain Whip Whitaker (Washington) indulging in cocaine, alcohol and a beautiful woman in a hotel room after what we can imagine was a rather heavy night. Setting the tone for things to come, it is a sign of Whitaker’s vulnerabilities in life and before we know it Whitaker is preparing himself for piloting a flight in rather treacherous weather conditions. Intoxicated and attempting to mask it, the captain soon finds himself thrust into a life-changing incident as the plane fails and he has to step up and pull off a manoeuvre that will save those on his flight.
Instantly regarded as hero upon the saving of the majority of the people on the flight, Whitaker is wracked with guilt and soon after an investigation takes place into the cause of the crash. As the authorities delve deeper into the details of that day, the state of the crew, Whitaker included, is taken into account and soon the captain finds himself fighting to save himself from prison following his alcohol-fuelled antics. Taking solace in his second home and befriending a similarly struggling addict, this time with drugs, Whitaker takes a downward spiral into alcoholism as his life around him slowly falls to tatters.
Marking the live-action return of Zemeckis, Flight certainly stamps the director’s name back in the limelight and produces one of the most solid and breathtaking performances from Washington in his exceptional career. Where Flight succeeds is in its blend of themes and the sheer splendid presentation of the proceedings. Opening with a glimpse of our main character at his most outrageous, Flight soon descends (literally) into a 15-minute nightmare in which we are aboard a plane that is heading for death and destruction. Of all the plane crashes and disasters depicted on screen this may well be the most harrowing. With every decision made by the flight crew we the audience are holding our breath and the sight of passengers screaming and falling from their seats to deathening thuds on surfaces hits home hard. Zemeckis is never distasteful in thrusting us into this scenario and therefore provides us with an utterly realistic, harrowing and truly gripping opening sequence.
Once the spectacular set piece takes our breath away, we are then taken on a journey through the faltering life of a man whose addiction to alcohol and drugs is as heartbreaking as it is unstoppable. As Whitaker lies in a hospital bed insisting that he will longer take another sip of drink we almost know this is going to be a tough journey. Even befriending drug addict Nicole (Kelly Reilly), whom is on the right track to recovery, Whitaker is unable to harness the will to overcome his weakness and we descend into darkness very quickly.
In one of his toughest roles of his career so far, Washington is an absolute revelation as Whip Whitaker. An individual wracked with guilt and addicted to alcohol, he is a broken man from the very first moment we clap eyes on him but throughout he is someone we instantly connect to on an emotional level. His struggle through an addiction is at times tough to watch and the influence of his friend Harling (John Goodman), whilst providing well-placed comic relief, adds further fuel to the fire.
Robert Zemeckis’s long-awaited live-action return is a beautifully harrowing blend of drugs, alcoholism and religion all depicted with a harsh emotional edge. Denzel Washington’s performance is worthy of the Oscar nomination and the brief glimpses of John Goodman offer light relief in what is essentially a morality film. The plane crash opening is as gripping and tough to watch as any and the story which follows continues to dig deep into the emotional core of the viewer. Flight is a soaring success and one that marks the return of a fantastic filmmaker and the continuation of one of the best actors around.  

Film Rating: 4 out of 5 F's

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Cinema Review - Gangster Squad

Now, when I first heard of yet another film pairing the beautiful Emma Stone and exceptional Ryan Gosling together once more I couldn't hide my delight. Band them together with the likes of Sean Penn, Michael Pena, Josh Brolin, Giovanni Ribisi and many more, and Gangster Squad looks like the perfect gangster ensemble film. Unfortunately, where the films pack a punch in terms of cast it suffers in content.

Directed by Zombieland's Ruben Fleischer, Gangster Squad heads back to Los Angeles, 1949, and a time when gangster Mickey Cohen (Penn) ruled the criminal underworld with an iron fist. As police chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) struggles to gain a foothold on the constant buying out of police officers and level of crime, he turns to one man for a solution.

Sergeant John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) is a dedicated police employee who is married to the job and one of few who is willing to stick his neck out to stop the terrifying reign of Cohen. When he is tasked to leave his badge at home and put together a squad to slowly take down the gangster's growing empire, a plan is set in place and all hell breaks loose.

With such an esteemed cast and a seemingly simple true life story to adapt to screen, you can't help think that Gangster Squad is going to be everything you wished it would be. The ingredients are all there - a moody Josh Brolin leading a ragtag group of individuals each with a special something, a secret romance blossoming between Gosling and Stone, and plenty of opportunities for action set pieces. Unfortunately it all results in a massive dose of mediocrity.

Where director Ruben Fleischer kept Zombieland fresh with some extremely well choreographed sequences, his latest offering keeps rather standard and is at times almost lazy. Admittedly the cast are a joy to behold, Penn has fun in the mould of Cohen, Brolin proves once again his leading man status and the likes of Stone and Gosling ignite with sexual tension. Where the letdown lies is in the scenes where we should be on the edge of our seats. The combat is predictable, slow motion sequences not enthralling enough and the majority proving to be predictable.

Gangster Squad is by no means a terrible film. It packs enough ingredients to be classed as a good gangster film, but good doesn't quite make the cut when you have a cast of such high-end individuals. Sean Penn stands out from the crowd in a role he revels in but with others losing out on sufficient development many of the other characters are easily disposable.

Fleischer has attempted to adapt his style to the time period and it never quite hits that spot, leaving Gangster Squad as a fun yet easily forgettable early year release.

Film Rating - 3 F's out of 5

Monday, 14 January 2013

Cinema Review - Jack Reacher

Much has been made of Tom Cruise's casting as the title character in Jack Reacher but such is life with some adaptations of books these days. Fortunately, I went into the film with no knowledge of the character from the books, but after leaving the cinema I will be seeking out the books to compare. Such is the strength of Jack Reacher that it has compelled me to head to the source material and make comparisons.

Moving on to the film itself, Jack Reacher sees the title character (Cruise), a loner, a stray, a drifter, whatever description you see fit, called into investigation when a mystery sniper shoots a number of innocent individuals seemingly at random. When the suspected culprit calls on Reacher, it appears a much wider web of deceit and lies has been weaved and a person like Reacher may be the only one who can solve the case.

Casting choice aside, Jack Reacher is a well-oiled machine of an action thriller. Providing its fair share of invigorating set pieces, combat scenes and intelligence, it is among one of the most clever thrillers in recent times. While many would suggest that an actor such as Liam Neeson would have been deemed fit for the billing, it is undeniable that Tom Cruise can carry a film of this magnitude and once again does so with ease.

Supported by the likes of Rosamund Pike, Richard Jenkins and the impressive David Oyelowo, Cruise is in good company, and one cannot forget the vindictive turn of one Werner Herzog. Given few scenes in which to make an impact, Herzog tackles his role as chief villain by the scruff of the neck and leaves a shiver down the spine with every word he utters. It is almost a let-down that he is given so little time to leave an impact, but a professional such as he delivers all the same.

Breaking away from the blockbusting Mission: Impossible franchise for the time being, Tom Cruise delivers yet another thrilling encounter and this time proves brawn and intelligence can be combined to provide an enthralling film experience. Many may argue the toss on casting and relation to Lee Childs' books but in terms of filmmaking Jack Reacher is one not to be ignored. 

Film Rating: 4 F's out of 5