In 1962, director Blake Edwards told the story of alcoholism better and shorter with Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick in Days of Wine and Roses. He only took 117 minutes and his ending was realistic.
Here, Denzel Washington is an alcoholic druggie who heroically lands a plane in trouble. That takes place in the first half hour and it is compelling filmmaking by director Robert Zemeckis. It won’t be much encouragement for those in the audience who are white-knuckle flyers to overcome their fears of flying, though, because it hits everything that worries people about airplanes, and it’s not just that you might be flying with an out-of-control, alcoholic pilot.
But during the next 115 minutes (just two minutes less than Edwards’ entire movie) the film slows down considerably as Washington struggles (not so valiantly) with his alcoholism and drug addiction. There are some fine performances here by Washington, Kelly Reilly, who plays another alcoholic with whom Denzel becomes involved, and Don Cheadle as the attorney trying to save Washington from himself.
There is a troubling scene in which Washington is roaring drunk, so his “protectors” call in his drug dealer, John Goodman, who has him snort three lines of cocaine, which immediately perks Denzel up so he’s no longer affected by his alcohol, which, up to that point, had him unable to stand up. Is cocaine an instant cure for being drunk?
The film deals with addiction in an interesting manner, but unfortunately the ending is just too much Hollywood, unlike the unhappy ending of Days of Wine and Roses that really leaves the viewer thinking. I walked out of Flight able to dismiss it completely due to the ending and its extraordinary length for such a thin story. Too bad.
When this series started in 1962 with Dr. No the runtimes were reasonable. The first three, Dr. No, From Russian with Love, and Goldfinger had runtimes of 110 minutes, 115 minutes, and 110 minutes, respectively. Then, with Thunderball in 1965, script, character, and acting took a back seat to special effects and action and ran 130 minutes, starting a trend of overly long films that continues to this day. Not coincidentally, the quality deteriorated as the runtime escalated. Following is a list of all the James Bond films with the runtimes:
- Dr. No (1962) 110 minutes
- From Russia with Love (1963) 115 minutes
- Goldfinger (1964) 110 minutes
- Thunderball (1965) 130 minutes
- You Only Live Twice (1967) 117 minutes
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) 142 minutes
- Diamonds Are Forever (1971) 120 minutes
- Live and Let Die (1973) 121 minutes
- The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) 125 minutes
- The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) 125 minutes
- Moonraker (1979) 126 minutes
- For Your Eyes Only (1981) 127 minutes
- Octopussy (1983) 131 minutes
- A View to a Kill (1985) 131 minutes
- The Living Daylights (1987) 130 minutes
- Licence to Kill (1989) 133 minutes
- GoldenEye (1995) 130 minutes
- Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) 119 minutes
- The World is Not Enough (1999) 128 minutes
- Die Another Day (2002) 133 minutes
- Casino Royale (2006) 144 minutes
- Quantum of Solace (2008) 106 minutes
Starting with Thunderball, they all exceeded two hours, many substantially except the last, Quantum of Solace. And the content decreased substantially, with script and plot being sacrificed for special effects, spectacular special effects, to be sure, but special effects were the dominating feature of every film from Thunderball through Quantum of Solace.
As a result the films were simply carbon copies of one another. Can you remember any performances by anyone other than the actor playing Bond after Gert Fröbe’s performance as Goldfinger? Can you remember the plot of any other than the first three? Yet the first three featured memorable performances by the villain, Joseph Wiseman as Dr. No, Robert Shaw and Lotte Lenya as Grant and Rosa Klebb respectively in From Russia with Love, in addition to Fröbe. Can you remember one performance for the succeeding 19 films? I can’t. Even Sean Connery got stale.
Directed by Sam Mendes with a slew of writers, always a bad sign, this new Bond is still filled with a lot of special effects. It tries for a big performance by Oscar®-winner Javier Bardem as the bad guy, but Bardem’s performance falls flat. Even Judi Dench and Ralph Feinnes basically just punch the clock. On the positive side, in very small roles, Albert Finney and Naomi Harris acquit themselves admirably.
Exacerbating the negative, this one is devoid of the clever repartee that highlighted most Bond films. It tries, but fails. It’s darker than all the others. And it is very, very long.
It also directly steals the rooftop location from Taken 2. Bond has a motorcycle chase across the very same rooftops that Liam Neeson only recently ran across.
Because of all the mindless action, it’s OK as an entertainment, and most people will probably find it a relatively enjoyable way to kill almost three hours, but it’s not something you would want to sit through again, as I can with Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger.