Saturday, November 24, 2012

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Even though this second installment of the James Bond reboot got good reviews when it debuted, I didn't enjoy it as much as its prequel, Casino Royale.

This film picks up where Casino left off. Bond was holding a gun to the head of Mr. White, the man who blackmailed Vesper, the woman James loved, which led to her death, when we last saw him. Now, we start off with a ubiquitous, rough and rapid car chase. Bond's car hurtles through tunnels, tumbles, careens and bumps at dizzying speeds. After the utmost havoc is reached, Bond alights from his vehicle, opens the trunk and we find Mr. White tied up inside. He politely tells his passenger that it's time to get out now.

White is interrogated at MI6 as Bond and M look on. She chides him for killing Le Chiffre, the terrorist villain from the last film, after having made a deal with the United States (or as they say, "the Americans") to hand him over. Alive, he could have offered them valuable information. Bond says he kept the deal. He provided them with Le Chiffre's body. If they wanted his soul, maybe they should have negotiated with a priest, instead.

She shows him a picture of Yusef, Vesper's boyfriend. Vesper gave in to terrorist demands (and betrayed Bond by handing over $100 million he was keeping for MI6 to Mr. White) in order to save Yusef's life. In Casino, when Bond broke into M's apartment and took classified information, she was unruffled. I almost suspect she hands data over to him, hoping he will "steal" it. It reminds me of the old story of Desi Arnaz and TV Guide. Another magazine had the exclusive rights to photos of Desi Arnaz, Jr. and they weren't supposed to be shared with TV guide -- not for publication. But Desi left the pictures of the boy in a folder on his desk, then conveniently left the room. Lo and behold, the babe's picture graced the cover of the next TV Guide, which immediately sold out, all without the cooperation of Desi and Lucy at all. Wink. M seems to do the same thing with Bond.

Showing him the file on Vesper, M reveals that Yusef staged his own death, but the corpse that was supposed to be his, turned out to belong to someone else. They identified it as fake through a lock of Yusef's hair they found in Vesper's possessions. Bond is surprised that Vesper was sentimental enough to keep Yusef's hair. No doubt he must wonder if she preserved any of his. Yusef was obviously a con artist. M warns Bond not to lose his head tracking him down. Revenge can make a person behave rashly. Bond says he's not running after Yusef, because he's not worth it -- and neither was Vesper. Still, when M turns away he deftly pockets Yusef's photo.

This becomes a problem in the second film. In Casino we not only realized through subtle scenes that Bond was hiding his feelings, but we were told he was by helpful characters and by Bond's vehement denials. That was fair to establish the new character in Daniel Craig's hands. But now that the foundation has already been laid, you don't have to keep telling us. We get it. This movie assumes we've seen the first and gives us the barest exposition as to players like Mr. White, Vesper, and Mathis. It even has Bond revisit the warehouse where he was tortured by Le Chiffre, without an explanation. We're supposed to remember what happened there. Well, if we're trusted to do that, have faith that we'll who James is and don't have the script remind us that he's emotionally closed off and impenetrable.

M joins the interrogation of Mr. White. He tries to tile Bond by mentioning how Vesper killed herself. I'm not sure how everyone knows how Vesper died. Since the villains were busy escaping a building crumbling into the sea, she and Bond were alone when she let herself drown in the elevator, eluding his grasp. Did Bond gab about her sacrifice to everyone, even the bad guys?

Feeling loquacious, Mr. White continues. He laughs at MI6's incompetence. He had thought that his group's every move was being tracked, but it turns out that the world's intelligence organization's know nothing about it. He assures M that they are omnipotent and omnipresent. They have people everywhere. To prove his point he gives the signal and the MI6 agents, M's own people, suddenly turn and begin shooting at her, freeing White.

Bond gives chase, but everyone is scattered. Later back in London M is in disbelief. One of Mr. White's men served as her own personal bodyguard for several years. Scouring his apartment, she finds several Christmas gifts she'd given him in the past there. Nothing in his background check (performed annually) suggested his treachery. Is she that bad a judge of character she wonders aloud. Who is Mr. White's group? How do they manage to have people everywhere? She speaks openly in the presence of investigators wiping the guard's apartment for clues. Bond looks at the cleaners sharply and remains silent. He doesn't trust them and one wonders why M, having just learned that she was bamboozled by years by a man who practically lived with her, isn't being more cautious about being overheard.

Her agents found tags on money in the guard's possession that lead to a man in Haiti. Bond is off to nab him and Q warns him to bring him in alive for questioning. He must stop killing everyone he sees. Bond says he'll try, but he's not too convincing.

In Haiti, he gets into a fight with the man he was tracking, kills him and takes over his identity, retrieving a briefcase the man left at the hotel counter. Bond is picked up outside of the Haitian hotel by, Camille, a woman who had an appointment with the dead man. She doesn't realize that Bond is not the geologist she intended to meet. He hops in her car, riding shot gun. When he opens the briefcase, there's a gun inside. He tells Camille that, apparently, someone wants her dead. Meanwhile, they're being followed. Realizing he's not the geologist, Camille angrily ditches Bond. The man trailing them hisses at Bond that he was supposed to kill Camille.

Intrigued by the unknown woman with an assasin on her tail, Bond follows her. She goes into a shipyard and meets with Dominic Greene. He raises money as someone who preserves natural resources, but he actually funds would-be dictators who seek to overthrow governments. He puts them in place and in return he gets control over a country's oil and -- Greene's true goals, water supply. He owns vast quantities of water and, after causing shortages, he moves in as a country's public utility provider, charging them fortunes for aqua.

Greene's current plot is to install the exiled General Medrano back as Bolivia's dictator. Once he gets Medrano in place, Bolivia will be under Greene's control. We find that after a dalliance with her, Greene put out a hit on Camille because he felt that she was buying information (from the geologist) to undermine him. So, he set her up. She insists that she was actually trying to apprehend his enemies, not make deals with them and, nuzzling Greene, wants to take up their cozy relationship where it let off. He says he always felt she was pumping him for information anyway, using him to get close to Medrano. She can't deny that she was interested in the General.

Greene calls Medrano and offers to hand Camille over to him, as long as he kills her after partaking. She's an orphan. Her father was once a powerful man that Medrano knew well. When he introduces himself to Camille, he meaningfully tells her that he was the last one to see her family alive. He then forces her onto his boat.

Bond had been observing Camille's encounters with Greene and Medrano from the docks. When he sees her kidnapped, he gets a boat and speeds after her, snaring her from Medrano's clutches, only to find that she wasn't looking to be rescued. She angrily asks him what he thinks you're doing. Saving her life, he says, "you're welcome." She says he may have ruined her only chance to get Medrano and huffs off.

Back in London, M tells Bond that the man he killed was a foreign agent. He needs to leave Haiti and get back to the UK immediately. He ignores her and asks about Dominic G-r-e-e-n-e. I'm not sure how he knows to spell it that way instead of "green" since he heard the name, rather than reading it. Still that's enough information for MI6 to identify him as head of an environmental company. They don't know what his ties to the terrorists are and M calls the CIA to get more information. They tell her they have no interest in Greene, but by the way they routed her call to the intelligence head, M knows they're lying. We learn that Felix Leiter, the CIA agent who funded Bond's poker hand in Casino isn't too happy to have the US playing footsy with Greene, in order to get oil from the countries under Greene's control. However Leiter's superior dismisses his concern and tells him that they don't have the luxury of only negotiating with nice people.

M realizes that Bond is onto something, but given the hot water he's already in, she orders him back to London. He refuses to come and she cancels his credit cards and passport. Bond contacts Mathis for help, the man he suspected of spying for the terrorists in Casino (when it was really just Vesper) and whom he had captured and tortured. He apologizes to Mathis and asks for his help in getting fake credentials, since MI6 has cut him off. Mathis doesn't hold a grudge and seeing beyond Bond's facade tries to assure him that Vesper truly loved him. Yes, right up until the time she betrayed him is Bond's bitter reply. Mathis gets Bond a passport and tells him he'll use his South American contacts to aid Bond.

M sends an agent (Ms. Fields) to bring the wayward Bond home. When Bond asks for her full name, she refuses to give it, but it is actually "Strawberry." Craig's Bond movies don't use the kitschy names for characters (i.e. Pussy Galore) but only allude to the franchise's more comedic entries in passing (for instance, in Casino Bond suggested that Vesper take Broadchest as an alias, as she did in the orignal 1967 movie, but she quickly shot the idea down). Similarly, later when Mathis asks what Bond is drinking, he says he doesn't even know (it's the Martini that Vesper described in Casino Royale), but the bartender chimes in with all the ingredient details. It is shaken, but this Bond hasn't gotten to the point of giving anyone a "not stirred" demand.

Fields books a hotel room for herself and Bond explaining that they are pretending to be teachers on sabbatical. Bond doesn't like the surroundings they're in and tells her that they'll be teachers on sabbatical who have just won the lottery. He takes her to a five star hotel and she is sufficiently impressed that she immediately sleeps with him. I'm not sure why. He hadn't even displayed any particular charm. Soon, instead of monitoring him for M, Fields is on his side against MI6. Their undercover hotel adventure, though brief, reminds me of the assignment that brought Vesper and him together in Casino, with them also sharing a hotel room, pretending to be lovers. It's a return to the point where he fell in love and everything fell apart.

Trying to learn more about Greene, Bond encounters Camille again and she tells him a cliched Harold Robbins story about Medrano raping her sisters and strangling her parents in front of her. She was too small for him to trouble himself with, but when he was done with the others, he burned their house down. She escaped and has been planning revenge her whole life. Bond admits that he understands the feeling. He lost someone too. He tells her that MI6 trained him that when you're personally involved and the adrenalin flows, you have to overcompensate, control yourself more, not less. Pull back and assess the situation.

Camille takes him back to the hotel, but drives off when she finds it swarming with police. Fields is dead, doused in oil, her nude body strewn across the hotel bed she shared with Bond. M greets Bond at the crime scene and wants to know how many women will lose their lives because they fell sway to him. He's out of control. He says he's trying to find the people who tried to kill her, in case she's forgotten. M tells him he's stripped of his authority and no longer works for Her Majesty's Secret Service. He's to give up all of his weopons immediately. Of course, he doesn't. He eludes her men, brawls takes a gun on his way out and hops into Camille's waiting car outside. He tells her that he's got to save a woman. Camille replies with a look. "It's not what you think," he mutters. "Well then what is she, your mother." "She thinks she is."

I resent that remark. Actually, M thinks she's his boss. She's not directing him based on misguided maternal instinct. I appreciate the personal bond they've developed between M and James in this rebooted series (to peak in Skyfall, when her life is threatened), but just because she's an older woman and he's a man doesn't mean M has to be thought of as possessive. Why should she be either motherly or a cougar? Why can't they be colleagues whose relationship has strengthened due to trust, risk and loyalty they've shared? Maybe he sees her as a mother. After all, Vesper profiled him and concluded he was an orphan. He learned M's first name (which was not divulged to the audience) and said he was surprised that M was not a random acronym, but actually stood for something. Maybe it stands for "Mother," symbolically. But let him be the one with that need. The fact that M is trying to reign him in, indicates she's trying to do her job and is being thwarted, not that she's a childless spinster (well, she lives with someone, whether husband or beau) looking to fulfill a biological need by nagging him.

Bond and Camille's car is stopped and an officer wants to check the trunk. Bond is suspicious. When he opens it, he finds Mathis and pulls the man out, when the "officer" shoots and kills Bond's ally, framing Bond for the crime. As he dies, Mathis asks Bond to stay with him. They hold hands until the end, then he throws Mathis' body into a pile of garbage. Camille shrieks. "Is that how you treat your friends?" Bond: "He wouldn't care."

At the airport, Bond gets a smitten attendant to lie to M about where he is heading. Following Greene, he attends a performance of Tosca and observes all suspicious activity. He sees ushers handing out special gift bags to Greene's acquaintances. Bond intercepts one for himself and finds a special earpiece inside. It looks a monitor that translates the opera lyrics, but really allows everyone wearing it to converse with one another sureptitiously during the performance.

They're talking about the final steps needed to put Medrano in as head of Bolivia. America won't oppose it? But what happens when they find they've been duped? Someone says they're working on that. A woman asks about getting more information from Canadian intelligence. A man tells her that they'll discuss that later. Bond takes it all in from the rafters of the opera house. When he's heard enough, he speaks up and wonders if he might offer a word of advice? He thinks they should find another place to meet. Rattled all participants in the conversation abruptly disengage and begin leaving the auditorium -- a stupid move, because following the startled departures throughout the audience, Bond is able to see exactly who was in on the conference call. He takes pictures of the people leaving and sends them to MI6.

The agents balk at Bond who has defied M's orders to return to London and has been accused of killing Mathis. She's called in by the prime minister's assistant, because the PM won't even speak directly to her any longer. Bond's unfettered activities have not brought them any near the terrorists, while revealing how little power M has over him. She's lost status within the government. Yet, she tells her assistant that she knows Bond is onto something and she trusts him. He's her agent. Well, technically, he's been fired, but obviously not in M's heart.

Working together, Bond and Camille show up at the meeting where Medrano is signing papers to take over Bolivia. Camille is prepared to kill Medrano and Bond tells her to take a step back, control her emotions and make every shot count.

In exchange for the power that Greene has handed over to him, Greene wants Bolivia's new leader to contract with his company to supply all of Bolivia's water, for twice the price that Medrano expected to pay. He balks. Greene tells him that if he doesn't agree, they'll replace Medrano with someone else and he'll be dead before morning. Does Medrano want to test that threat. Apparently not, Medrano angrily signs all of Greene's papers and heads back to his room to rape a hapless woman. Camille hears her screams from outisde the door.

She eventually busts into the room and starts to fight him. When he has her cornered he is mocking, telling her that she is wearing the same face of fear that her mother had, before he killed her. She shoots him, but he has set fire to the room, which paralyzes Camille. Suffering from post-traumatic stress after the fire that killed her family decades ago, she huddles in a fetal position (this reminds me of Mulder in the X-Files Fire episode; he had a fear of fire which trapped him frozen in fear in that episode, but was quickly forgotten about for the rest of the series) and doesn't move to escape the flames.

Bond is about to kill Greene, but they hear the shot coming from Medrano's room and Greene taunts that it sounds like Bond has lost yet another damsel. Bond runs off to assist Camille. He dashes through the flames to save her. She is holding herself, unmoving, saying "not again, not this way," she can't burn like her family did. She can't die that way. The fire seems overbearing and there is no way through it. Bond takes out his gun and cocks it. Camille expects a merciful shot to the head and implores him to make the shot count. Instead, he uses the gun to blow a hole through the wall and they break out to freedom.

Although the move hadn't seemed to occur to Camille at all, she takes her near-death escape in surprising stride. Safe, Bond asks her if it feels good to have killed Medrano. It did. She wonders if the dead are at peace once they've been avenged. She tells Bond that she wishes he could feel free like she does now, but his prison is inside. Oh brother. At this point, I don't even care what's inside of Bond's head, if the script can't find a more subtle way of telling us. Did everyone in Yorkshire run around loudly expressing what a dark and troubled soul that Heathcliff was? Concealed pain loses its appeal when it's . . .not so concealed. Bond grabs Camille in a kiss and I can't wait until she Dr. Phil's herself off the screen.

He then continues after Greene, he finds him trying to escape in the hot, desert. Bond gives him a can of motor oil and says it will probably be a good 20 miles before Greene will be thankful to drink it. Bond then motors away from the stranded man.

He heads to Russia where he's waiting in an apartment when Yusef enters with a dark-haired girl on his arm. Her passing resemblance to Vesper is not accidental. Pointing his gun at Yusef, Bond asks the girl if she is Canadian intelligence. She needn't answer; he knows she is. Soon, she'll be asked for her government's top secret information under threat of Yusef's death. She won't hesitate to betray her country to save Yusef, because she loves him. What a pretty necklace she's wearing. Did Yusef give it to her. A woman he knew had an identical one, Bond pulls it out of his pocket and shows her. It belonged to a good friend of his. Disillusioned the girl realizes that Yusef is used her. When Bond tells her to leave and let Canada know they've been compromised, she quickly obeys, quietly thanking him as she does.

Facing Bond's gun Yusef begs. He asks that Bond make his death quick.

Cut to Bond outside the Russian apartment talking to M. Did he leave Yusef alive, she asks. He did. So, facing down his personal emotions, he felt the adrenalin and over-compensated by resisting it. He didn't let revenge control him. He tells M she was right about Vesper. I'm not sure what he means by that. In Casino, M told him that Vesper loved him and risked her own life to save his. Is that what M was right about. In this movie, she hasn't said much about Vesper at all, except to warn Bond not to lose his wits trying to bring Yusef to justice? Was M right that that is what he had set out to do? If so, she was right about him, not Vesper. Whatever it is she was right about, M tells Bond to return to London. She needs him back in MI6. He says he never left. As he tracks away we see Vesper's necklace on the snow-covered ground behind him.

Craig does not disappoint as Bond and, as in Casino, I am glad to have more substance than action, but the backstory here (for everyone: James, Camille, Mathis, even Fields) was a bit hackneyed and maudlin. The human touches seemed more effortless and natural in Casino. Sentiment, when overdone, may leave Bond shaken, but the viewers unstirred.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Casino Royale (2006)

This entry resets the Ian Fleming franchise and shows us how a legend was created. Although, Daniel Craig is not especially young, his James Bond is so green that when asked whether he wants his vodka Martini shaken or stirred, he doesn't see why it even makes a difference.

Before the opening credits, he's not a double 0 agent yet, because he hasn't gotten enough kills under his belt. He only has one, but that's about to change. When his next victim assures him that the second murder is easier, Bond readily agrees, before shooting him.

We next see him on the run after terrorists. But he blows up a gang of henchmen when he was supposed to bring and informant back alive. The government needed someone to lead the to the bigger fish and Bond has ruined that plan and not discreetly. They get unwanted publicity because he is said to have shot an unarmed prisoner. M is not pleased. She roundly scolcs him and concludes she gave him his "licence to kill" prematurely. This film sets up a tie between M and Bond. One wouldn't exactly say her feelings towards him are maternal, but she's a proud governess, at the very least.

Though she criticizes him for it, she counts on his rashness to achieve things MI6 needs done, though she can't formally approve them. She can predict Bond's unauthorized actions by just depending on, she tells him, "you being you." So, even when he breaks into her home and steals her security password to gain entry to classified information, both of them know she's not exactly surprised or reproachful. The relationship built here will, I assume, serve us all well as the foundation of Skyfall.

Though M takes James off the terrorist case, he persists and stops a plane from being blown up by using his charms to extract information from the bomber's wife. She ends up dead and when M notes that James has no remorse he says, of course not. The very fact that has to be mentioned tells us, if not M, that his response is a lie.

MI6 has discovered that someone aligned with the terrorists, villain Le Chiffre, shorted airlines on the stock market, just like terrorists did before September 11, 2001. He counted big on airline stock going down due to the terrorist crash that Bond averted. Since the disaster never occurred, Le Chiffre lost over $100 million and his backers are coming after him for repayment or revenge. Le Chiffre is participating in a high stakes poker gain to win back the money he owes. M says he can't win, because the money will be used to fund terrorism. If Bond, the best poker player in the agency, enters the game and wins instead, then Le Chiffre's life will be threatened and he will come to the MI6 for protection, giving them everything he knows in exchange for security.

For whatever reason, MI6 can't fund his poker pot, and the money is coming from an outside company. Vesper Lynd is the beautiful representative who approves the cash transfer. She promises Bond only $10 million now, but has the discretion to give him $5 million more, if, in her estimation, he can actually win the game. Vesper and Bond are both good at profiling and size each other up immediately. He thinks she overcompensates, hardens herself, to try to fit in in a man’s world, but she doesn’t understand that her shell actually alienates her male colleagues. He would guess she was an only child, but since she didn’t respond when he teased about her parents giving her the name Vesper, he concludes that she’s an orphan instead. She doesn’t confirm his assessment, but offers one of her own.

Since he quickly assumed she was an orphan, that’s probably what he is. He went to a good school, maybe Oxford, but based on the disdain with which he wears his clothes, he wasn’t born into money. So, he must have gotten into school on someone else’s dime. He is beholden to a benefactor. He wasn’t rich like his classmates and they never let him forget it. Bond declares that he has been skewered, just like the lamb he’s just eaten. When Vesper turns to leave, he smiles, having been impressed by her deductions.

Since she has to be around to watch the poker game, in order to determine if he is going to be lent the additional funds, Bond says that they should play a couple. He suggests that she use an entendre'd nom de plume like Stephanie Broadchest. She flatly refuses. They will share a hotel room and pretend to be in love. Soon after, Bond figures that if Le Chiffre’s contacts are really any good, he knows that Bond is getting the money from Vesper’s firm anyway, so they might as well play themselves, rather than aliases. If Le Chiffre knows that Bond is with MI6, but still wants to play him, he must really need the cash.

Rene Mathis is a local liaison working with MI6 and pulling the strings necessary to get Bond into the poker game in the first place.

As the charade begins, Bond brings Vesper an evening gown and tells her to walk into the casino and kiss him in it. All the other players will be so distracted by her presence that they won’t be able to concentrate on their hands (I really don’t think that high stakes poker players are that susceptible to beauty, while a game is in progress). Vesper has beat him to the punch and has already picked out a tuxedo for him to wear, perfectly tailored to fit (because she sized him up within seconds of meeting him) and chic, showing everyone that he belongs in that poker game, as opposed to the rags that he had picked out himself. So we see that Vesper’s early influence him shaped the style leader that Bond was later to become.

After the games begin, Bond loses big. Vesper complains that he will have spent the entire $10 million that she staked him by midnight at this rate. He disagrees. He learned something valuable. Le Chiffre has a tell. His left eye twitches when he is bluffing and he puts up a hand to cover it. Mathis and Vesper are intrigued by this observation.

During a break in cards, Le Chiffre retreats to his hotel room and is waylaid by violent thugs sent by his creditors. When they prepare to cut off his girlfriend’s arm, Le Chiffre doesn’t even protest. However, anxious to preserve his own life, Le Chiffre promises he will have their money by the next day. Bond is listening in on the confrontation and is caught by the thugs as they exit Le Chiffre’s room. He and Vesper fight them in a stairwell. She grabs one of the men’s gun but is paralyzed by fear. She can’t use it. Bond soaked in their blood, kills with his bare hands, snapping one of the thug’s neck and throwing the other over the stairwell. He tells Vesper to have Mathis clear away the bodies. He has to get back to the poker table. When she stalls, he speaks sharply, breaking through her shock and ordering her to hurry.

Back in his hotel room, we see that Bond is stunned himself. He takes time to collect, before changing his bloody shirt, but rather than jumping in for a quick shower, he just uses a basin to wash his face and chest. The basin is tinged with the blood, which he splashes onto his face. Rather than making him clean, it seems to baptize him in the lives he’s just taken, christened by the sin. When Vesper asks if what he’s just done doesn’t bother him, he brushes off the question, saying he wouldn’t be much of an agent if it did!

When the poker hand finishes for the night, he returns to the hotel room. The shower is running, but he sees a broken glass on the counter. Thinking Vesper may have been attacked, he treads carefully into the bathroom. She is fully clothed in her evening gown, sitting on the shower floor, letting the water flow over her, while she trembles. Still dressed himself, Bond gets into the shower. She stammers that she felt she had blood on her hands and it won’t come off. Bond says to let him help. He takes her fingers and puts them into his mouth, sucking them clean: tender and intimate, but ick! I don’t see how that makes her hands clean, but since he committed the murders, not her, I guess it is a symbolic way to remove the guilt from her hands and transfer it back to him. Is that better, he asks. She nods numbly. Is she cold, another silent yes. He pulls her close, as the water trickles over them.

The next day, she’s asleep. In her own room, as he comes out of his. The comfort he gave her last night was not sexual.

Back at the poker table, Bond is losing badly. Based on Le Chiffre’s hand movements, he thought he was bluffing, but Le Chiffre had the cards. Did Bond read the tell wrong or did Le Chiffre fool him into thinking there was one? Le Chiffre smirks. Bond needs another $5 million to stay in the game. Vesper refuses to give it to him. She says he has lost this much because he is reckless. It’s ego that makes him want to win, not the need to stop terrorism. He tells her to look in his eyes and know he can win. She does look, but must not see a victor, because her answer is still “no.” This seems like a huge lapse of trust on her part to me. But maybe Bond sees it as a sign of her independence and it gives him faith that her judgment can’t be swayed by emotion. Hard to say.

If MI6 is not going to get Le Chiffre as an informant, Bond refuses to let him live. He heads off with a knife he swipes from a restaurant table (are steak knives really that sharp and lethal?) to nab the man, but is stopped by a fellow poker player. Turns out it’s a CIA agent. He’ll stake Bond in the poker game if MI6 lets the United States bring Le Chiffre in. Bond agrees.

He wins the poker game and later celebrates with Vesper. I would have said, “I told you so,” and given her the cold shoulder, but he seems smitten. He notices the love knot she wears as a necklace. What does it mean? She says that she just thought it was something pretty. “No she didn’t.” He knows that someone gave it to her. She leaves the table when she gets a text from Mathis. It’s a second after she departs that a light bulb goes off in Bond’s head. Mathis! That must have been how Le Chiffre knew that Bond had recognized his tell and used it against Bond. Mathis must be a double agent. Bond runs off after Vesper, but she’s already been caught. Bond gives chase and when his car rolls, Le Chiffre grabs both of them. His men drag Vesper into a closed room and her screams cause Bond agony.

Meanwhile, Le Chiffre strips Bond naked, his testicles and penis hanging from the open bottom of a chair. Le Chiffre doesn’t know why people even bother with other forms of torture when this is all they need. He puts a heavy stone boulder on a rope and swings it hard into Bond’s genitals. He wants the password for the Casino Royale account where Bond’s poker winnings are stored. Bond screams in pain, but won’t give it to Le Chiffre. Le Chiffre keeps pounding Bond’s crotch and says that there won’t be much of his manhood left to heal, assuming he does heal. Bond responses by telling him he has jock itch. Le Chiffre hits him again and Bond laughs at having made Le Chiffre “scratch” Bond’s testicles, before dying. Le Chiffre says that he won’t die because even if he doesn’t get the money back and kills Bond and Vesper, the British government will still give him shelter from his would-be assassin, because they need his information so badly. He prepares to test this theory and kill Bond (while Vesper screams in the other room) when the thugs walk in and take Le Chiffre out, then leave.

Bond wakes up in a hospital. We don’t know how badly he is injured. But he tells Vesper that whatever he has left is hers and she declares he is the best person she’s ever known. I’m not sure why she’s so enamored of him. He didn’t give the bad guy’s his password, but he not only risked his own life in doing so, he consigned her to death too. But I suppose she thinks this is honorable, because it was done for the greater good. He didn’t let his $100 million in poker winnings fund terrorism, no matter what the personal costs.

At the hospital, Mathis wonders why Le Chiffre’s killers let Bond and Vesper go free. It was almost as if . . . before he can finish his sentence, Bond has MI6 agents take Mathis, the traitor away.

He and Vesper prepare to live happily ever after. He says that he will quit his job with MI6 and emails off a resignation to M. He says that Vesper was right. If he kept killing, he would lose his humanity. There wouldn’t be any soul left to salvage. So, he’ll let Vesper be their breadwinner. He notices that she has stopped wearing her love knot necklace. She says yes, she has learned that sometimes you can forget the past. They prepare to travel for a month and, based on their bed romping, it looks like Bond has healed completely from his torture wounds. Vesper, still employed, gets a phone call and has to take care of business but she’ll meet with Bond in 30 minutes.

She leaves and M calls. She’ll talk about Bond’s resignation later. Right now, she wants to know where the $100 million he won from Casino Royale is. Bond, not letting his suspicions show, tells M he’ll check it out. He thought that the money had already been transferred to the MI6. After all, he gave the agent his password. Vesper was there. She put in the code herself and was touched that it turned out to have been V-E-S-P-E-R. Bond calls the bank and finds the money had been deposited into an account for him, from which a withdrawal was just being made. Vesper has left her cell phone behind. Bond looks at it and learns that Vesper had a scheduled assignation in 30 minutes. Bond runs to the bank and sees Vesper departing with the cash. She hands it over to armed men. When Bond intercepts the exchange, one of the men grabs Vesper and threatens to kill her. Bond says he should be the one to do the honors.

He shoots at them and they run into a dilapidated building. When he shoots it up, it begins to flood and collapse. Vesper is trapped in a gated elevator. When Bond, having just voiced an intention to kill her, tries to free her instead, she takes the key out of the gate, choosing to stay locked in. She moves to the back of the elevator, so that Bond cannot rescue her. The cables break and the elevator falls into the ground, crashing into the water underneath. Bond swims down to Vesper, desperate to pry open the elevator cage. She won’t help. She tells him she’s sorry and kisses his hand. It harks back to the two of them on the shower floor together, submerged in water. Fingers to mouth. Her trying to wash herself clean of guilt. She’s doing it again now, letting herself be flung to the back of the elevator again, as far from him and from safety as possible. She gulps in the water, letting it drown her, while crying for him to leave. She loses consciousness. He finally gets in and pulls her to the surface. He tries CPR repeatedly, but she’s gone.

Later M explains on the phone. It turns out Vesper had a boyfriend. Le Chiffre’s creditors kidnapped and threatened to kill him unless Vesper gave him the money. But she must have only agreed to do it in exchange for Bond’s life, that’s why they didn’t murder him when they came to take out Le Chiffre. She must have known that they would kill her as soon as they got the money, but she was willing to take the risk. M says that since Vesper was the double crosser, Mathis must be clean. Bond says not necessarily, maybe they were both dirty (this seems like an unfounded and unnecessary conclusion. If Vesper is the one who told Le Chiffre about the tell, then what evidence is there that Mathis did anything wrong?) M says that she wants him back to work, but he can take time to get over Vesper. Who needs time, Bond says. He’s already over it. He’ll be back to work immediately.

The attitude he’s trying to don reminds me of Cary Grant in Notorious. As Devlin, Grant wanted to denounce Ingrid Bergman completely. If she was willing to compromise herself (her body) to apprehend the Nazis, that was the ultimate betrayal for him. He wanted nothing to do with Alicia and denied the love she espoused and he reciprocated, locking her out. Vesper accused Bond of locking her out as well, walling away his emotions, when he was recovering at the hospital, but he proved to her he had not. He again proved that his heart was still open when he fought to free her from the elevator, against her will. Now, that she’s dead, the impenetrable wall returns. It's rebuilding even as he speaks to M, but there’s just one more thing .. .

Bond still has Vesper’s cell phone. He knows that she left it behind on purpose. She knew he would look at it. M agrees, “she knew you would be you.” So, when the phone rings now, it’s a message from the grave, a text telling him that Vesper was transferring the money to a “Mr. White.”

We see Mr. White strolling his vast estate. The phone rings and White answers it. Somewhere a shot rings out and hits White in the leg. He falls, crippled and struggles to reach safety, bleeding across concrete over to his porch, where he tries to pull himself up with weak fingers. In agony, he shouts into the phone, “Who is this?!” Bond steps onto the porch and answers as he points a gun at White’s head: “Bond. James Bond.”

End credits. In Daniel Craig a new star is born. Excellent series reboot, especially for me, whose wits are quickly dulled by action sequences. The dramatic and human approach Martin Campbell and the new writers bring to their chapter in the Bond series is most welcome. The intrigue continues but it lies more in Bond's vulnerability than in Q's gadgets. That's fine by me.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2

The fifth and final installment of the Twilight Saga does not disappoint. In the end. You do have to slog through about 80 minutes of disjointed highlights from the book before you finally feel that you’re seeing a film in its own right.

Having read the four books in the series, it’s hard for me to imagine someone fully understanding the Cullen/Swan story (such as it is) based on nothing but what they see unfold on the screen, especially not the way Condon has directed this last one, where one moment fast forwards to another without a seque. It’s like skipping rocks, it’s a lot of fun, if you know where you’re going. If not, you’re liable to fall in between the rocks.

You not only have to have read the books, but have a pretty good memory of what happened in the last film to know what is happening and, since the first half of the movie is more a montage of nice moments between familiar people, rather than a plot, if you aren’t thoroughly entwined in their lives already, there’s nothing to draw you in.

The movie starts with Bella seeing the world through her vampire eyes for the first time. She takes in her surroundings and is almost immediately able to control her new speed and power. Little learning curve is required. Kristen Stewart’s makeup and hair are lovely throughout the movie, in contrast to the last one where Bella was a wraith being torn apart from the inside by her incompatible pregnancy. Now, she’s vibrant, lithe, strong.

She immediately goes out to hunt, leaping mountains, wrestling lions. Her thirst for blood quenched, she goes into the Cullen home to see her daughter for the first time. Renesmee, Edward and Bella’s prodigious child is portrayed very convincingly both as an infant and as an older child. With the help of subtle CGI and luminous eye detail, she is believable as a miraculous girl, only partly human, with preternatural intelligence and ability.

The family has built the newlyweds a charming cottage. Edward takes Bella through it, "This is the baby's room." Well, yeah. That's why it has a big, honking cradle in the middle of the floor!. "This is our room." Well, there are only 3 of you, so if the other one was for the baby, I'd assume this one was yours! I suppose he's just nervous.

Bella learns that Jacob, her wolf friend, has imprinted on Renesmee. It’s an animal thing which has caused him to take her as his soulmate for life. His need to protect her supercedes all else. This is less annoying than it was in the book, because it is given less time and we only have to spend a few minutes watching his possessiveness try to usurp everyone else’s relationship to the child. Mainly, Jacob lays low in this installment and spends half of his time in wolf form, giving Taylor Lautner less to do. Thank goodness.

Of course, we don’t escape completely, as in the book, Jacob invites Charlie over to the Cullen house to see his newly vampired daughter, without considering the type of danger he is putting the human in, by doing so. However, when Jacob tries to give Charlie hints that Bella is somehow paranormal by revealing his own werewolf secret to the man, we get a rather humorous scene that wasn’t in the book. Charlie looks on as Jacob strips naked, too puzzled by what is happening to even ask questions, probably afraid of the answer.

Later as Jacob, Renesmee and Bella frolic in a field, they see a strange woman watching them. It’s Irina. She’s still mad because Jacob killed her lover (to save Bella). Irina runs off without talking to the trio. With her psychic vision, Alice devines that Irina has gone off to tell the Volturi that the Cullens have an “Immortal Child.” The Voluri, self-appointed vampire rulers, have decreed that converting a child into a vampire is illegal, because the child will be frozen at the age of his human death. He will be forever immature, subject to tantrums and unable to control his emotions. Able to decimate an entire village in a matter of unruly hours and quickly alerting any humans to the fact that vampires exist, which is forbidden. Therefore, any Immortal Child must be killed and those who create one will be punished.

When the Volturi are told that the Cullens have such a child, they are delighted by the news. Jealous of the powers that Carlisle’s growing family and their gifts (Edward can read minds and Alice can see the future), Aro, the Volturi leader, has been looking for a reason to break up the clan anyway. Their possession of a verboten immortal gives him the perfect excuse. The Volturi immediately head to Forks, with murder on their mind.

Alice tells the Cullens of the looming danger and they travel the world to find other vampires to take their side against the Volturi. Though it tries, I don’t think the movie properly captures the fear and despair they feel knowing that they have been targeted to die and that a child so loved and created from love has been branded as the evil that will justify their death. It was a dread and pain that the book certainly made more palpable.

Initially, Carlisle is just gathering supporters to witness, to see that Renesmee is not an Immortal Child, ungovernable and trapped in an unchanging body. She grows rapidly. Further, she’s restrained and mature, no danger to humans or anyone else. Carlisle believes that the more people who can testify to these facts, the more proof he will have to deter the Volturis. But departing from the book, once Edward realizes that the Volturi want to kill and Renesmee is the excuse, not the reason the family is being threatened, he asks everyone to fight with them and for their own rights. He urges them to rebel against the Volturi’s ruthless rule.

Because they have all agreed to fight, it’s strange that we don’t see them in training. Of course, Bella learns that she is a “shield.” She has a natural defense against vampire powers. That’s why little Jane, Aro’s evil emissary, can’t cause Bella pain, why neither Aro or Edward can read her thoughts. She exercises the shield, strengthens its power, so that she can physically protect others besides herself. This provides another source of humor that’s not in the book, when Bella tries to shield Edward from volts of electricity. He’s a hesitant guinea pig here (in the book he was stoic and willing to do anything to help her hone her skills) and, once she starts to see results, Bella is anxious to keep experimenting, to his chagrin. In the book, Bella never wanted to hurt Edward for any reason. In the film, Bella’s love isn’t so precious. For instance, in the book when Bella first learns that, as a newborn vampire, she has enough strength to hug Edward hard enough it hurts, she pulls back immediately, though a bit proud that she could make him say “ouch.” In the movie, when Edward cries uncle, she grabs him again, making him yelp once more for good measure. Plus, she's usually cool and often snippy (i.e. countering his romantic gesture with, "I haven't forgotten how to undress myself"), somewhat quelling the sense of romance.

Once Bella realizes, through the clues Alice gives her (left in a The Merchant of Venice book), that she and Edward won't survive the Volturi and that Renesmee's only hope is escape with Jacob, we see her coping with the pain, but the movie doesn't follow up with Edward's reaction to that sudden news down the road, as the book did. When Jacob takes off with the child at the end, we miss the poignant goodbye that was so hard to read. However, we do see Bella gaze upon Edward and Renesmee holding each other, knowing that their days together are numbered. It shows her empathy for Edward's loss as well as her own. Something, that I find is all too rare in both the books and the films. Though selfless, Bella is alarmingly self-centered.

As for the Merchant of Venice, Roger Ebert mocked that reference by Meyer, but I think she chose it because, like Bassanio, Bella must first give and hazard all she hath, to end up with everything she desires in the end.

As they celebrate a somber Christmas, Bella gifts Charlie with a fishing trip, to have him safely out of the way when the Volturi come. Jacob gives little Renesmee a bracelet. Bella and Edward seems to think it charming, but I find it creepy, since Jacob made a charm bracelet for Mama Bella, when she was the love of his life. Bella presents a locket to Renesmee, a picture of she and Edward inside. The child does not know it, but it is a farewell token.

Although the Cullens and their friends plan to fight the Volturi, we don’t see them practicing their physical skills as they do in the book. We’re given a brief synopsis of everyone’s abilities, but don’t see a lot of them in action. One does get the sense that director Bill Condon is using this finale to introduce characters who aren’t important here, but will play the lead in his next movies.

When the Volturi arrive as foretold by Alice, the Cullen clan is ready. They tell Aro that Renesmee was born, not bitten. She was conceived and is part human. Though Aro believes them, he says that they since there is no one else like Renesmee, there is no telling what she will grow into. She may not be a threat to the vampires now, but in the future . . . he’s not interested in reason, but is determined to fight. Here, the movie diverges wildly from the book. I expected that the non-confrontational ending Stephenie Meyer wrote would not be climatic enough for film producers. I knew they would inject action and violence where peace had prevailed in the Twilight pages. So, I wasn’t surprised when war broke out, especially when I’d seen fighting in the movie trailers.

However, I was shocked at what sparked the melee. When Aro’s soldiers grab Alice, Carlisle runs forward to save her. He is quickly nabbed and beheaded. I say to myself as long as they don’t burn his body, he can still be resuscitated. He’s not dead, unless – then they set his body on fire and I see the Cullen leader has been permanently annihilated and I’m floored. Edward rushes out in rage to exact revenge. Bella follows after and insanity breaks out. I guess it’s good that we didn’t watch them train for this battle, because all of their practice would have gone for nought. Instead of using their powers of electricity, disorientation and psychic shields everyone just brawls, fist to fist. No coordination, it's all mortal combat.

Jasper is decapitated and, again I am stunned. I know this was supposed to be the final installment, but I can’t believe they’ve killed these characters off forever. They kept talking about a “twist” at the end of the movie, would they have the audacity to kill off Bella or Edward or to make their fates a cliffhanger to be resolved years in the future? I’m uncertain. Afraid of what might happen, eager to find out.

Alice grabs Jane and feeds her to a wolf who tears her to shreds. It’s a good thing that vampires are made of marble and don’t bleed or else this movie would be pretty gory.

Although, characters see their lovers die, we don’t really get to explore their reactions. They are moving so fast, it’s not as if they are even experiencing grief. I’m somewhat disappointed about this. Edward and Bella fight separately and don’t seem concerned about each other. Then, for a moment they are together and see Aro approaching. They lock hands, both wedding rings visible. They exchange a meaningful look, an unsaid goodbye. Then, they race ahead to duel to the death with Aro. Edward swings Bella towards Aro like a weapon. He throws her upward and she comes pouncing down onto their enemy. Showing physical strength that Aro is not capable of in the book, the movie Aro fights back. Edward and Aro are in a clench, evenly matched, either could die. Bella jumps on Aro’s shoulder, twists his head as Edward wrenches his body until they break the head villain in two and set fire to him. Then , as the flames engulf him . . .

We see it was all a vision of Alice’s. Her hand in his, she has transmitted the future to him, shown Aro what will happen if he persists in fighting the Cullens. He got the message loud and clear and turns back to his party: ‘Nothing to see here. Move along.’ With an abrupt and comical change of heart, he assures his Volturi gang that the Cullens hold no danger for them and they should leave.

Hey, I’m an old Dallas fan and I should have seen the “it was all a dream” twist coming from a mile away, but I didn’t. I guess it’s because I expected the movie to depart from the book’s non-violent finale anyway that I accepted the fact that it did exactly that so readily. We have all experienced M. Night Shayamalan fatigue and, at this point, surprise endings have long lost their luster. They often seem cheap, tacked on, a cop out. But this one worked, because it was perfectly in keeping with the rules Meyer set out from her first book through her last. There was no cheating. Alice has always had visions. We have never seen them before, but she’s told us about them from the start. What’s more, those visions aren’t static. Nothing is fated. We know that her futures can change as quickly as someone’s mind does. Therefore, the fact that the vision she showed Aro was an alternate one and not something that actually happened is not a plot shortfall. It’s a triumph. Aro had planned to fight them. Once he’s shown what the outcome would be, his plan changed, as did the vision.

The audience was glued to the action, but rejoice when all its damage is reversed. Carlisle and Jasper live. Happiness reigns. We don’t get the post script from the book where Alice explains why she seemingly abandoned her family. The apparent betrayal was a focal point of the novel, adding to the sense of gloom. It’s not as much of a factor in the movie.

However, Edward and Bella’s last goodbye to us is true to the original story. They aren’t at home (as in the book) but in the field where their love first bloomed. Bella wants to show Edward something. She gives Edward a mental vision of all the beautiful moments they’ve shared over the years. From the first time since he’s known her, he can read her thoughts. He’s overwhelmed and we’re touched by the montage of intimate footage from the last 4 movies. Edward asks her to play the vision again. She says it takes a lot of time. But they have all the time in the world. Forever.

As Edward and Bella kiss, we see the last page of Stephenie Meyer’s book on the screen. And we close the cover on the entire saga, movie and book. Together, at last.

The credits roll. We see photo credits, images of all of the actors who have been in the series, along with their names. The minor characters are pictured first, from those who only had one line to those who did not appear in this last movie at all. Their faces grace the screen and we remember them from the movies past: Renee, Victoria, Mike. It makes us think back all the way to the original Twilight, when everything was new and beginning. As all those faces keep flashing before them, we come to the main characters, the Cullen family and then, finally, Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, Stephenie’s early pages, black and white words scrolling past, as her character’s first introduce themselves in print. Then finally, the title. We leave right where everything started. And yes, it does make you want to pick up the book and read it all again.

As a whole, I wouldn’t say Breaking Dawn 2 was a consistent piece of movie-making, but the last 30 minutes were moving ones, salvaging everything else and leaving me with memories of all that was good and enchanting.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Flight (2012)

People who go to the movie without first reading reviews might expect to see an updated Airport with Denzel Washington in Burt Lancaster's role, but Flight's story is more about the aftermath than the plane crash. It's nice to see a script that still searches for the big drama in a small world.

We're introduced to Whip Whittaker as he wakes from a hungover, one night stand. We quickly see he's a drunk, coke fiend, and flirt. We get to see him at his worst first: flip, cocky, confident. We follow him to his job as head pilot on a plane carrying 102 passengers. His co-pilot, Ken Evans, who has never met him before is taken aback by his brash manner and inappropriate jokes. Evans may not realize Whip is a drunk, but it's obvious he's highly erratic. But as the flight takes off and they enter a heavy storm, Evans flashes of brilliance through Whip's fog. When the situation demands, Whip is sharp, quick and sure in crisis. He navigates through the storm with a speed that is frightening and risky.

Like Evans, you marvel at his ability but also wonder if he exposed the plane and its passenger to unnecessary danger. Would it have been safer to plod slowly through the bad weather rather than zooming through it as Whip did. For that matter, should he have canceled the flight altogether, given the blinding rain?

That emergency over, Whip sneaks himself some liquor, lets Ken take over the controls and snoozes. Something on the plane breaks down and suddenly the plane is falling. Ken panics while Whip jerks to attention and, with astounding courage under pressure, barks out commands to both Ken and the head flight attendant as he fights to keep one step ahead of the fast falling aircraft. He does everything possible to slow the plane's descent, but is keenly aware it might be a losing battle ordering his flight attendant, Margaret, to say goodbye to her son, so her last words of love can be recorded on the plane's blackbox, just in case the unthinkable happens.

Meanwhile, in the passenger compartments, one hysterical attendant unstraps herself and is bounced about, while another, Whip's one night stand, Katerina, unbuckles herself to save a child's life.

After rolling the plane (turning it upside down) to slow it's drop, Whip crashes it into a field, taking out a church steeple and cross on his way down.

He wakes up in the hospital and first wants to know how many people died. How many crew? He learns that 6 people died in the crash, including two crew members, one being Katerina. A tear falls from his eye and it's tinged with blood. It's in the hospital that we see him as an addict yes, but not a person who only thinks of himself, not even as a person who thinks of himself first. He can't control his drinking, but he thinks on his feet, suppresses impatience and pain and follows protocol between shots.

The fact that Whip did the seemingly impossible and landed the plane has made him a media hero. He numbly watches the tv coverage. When everyone repeats that no one else could have landed the plane like he did, he knows it's the truth. When they all say that it was a miracle, an act of God, he looks at the plane wreckage and wonders what God would have done that.

That's a theme threaded throughout the film. What role does faith play? The answer is unclear. Was Margaret the only flight attendant to survive because she believed in God and hadn't been out carousing with Whip the night before as Katarina had? Whip plays upon her graditude towards him to get her to agree to lie to the FAA and deny knowledge of his drunkenness.

It turns out that co-pilot Ken and his wife are religious zealots who believed that God willed the plane to crash. Whip views them as insane, but is relieved because, thinking that the crash was fated, Ken has decided not to report Whip's drinking to anyone. Whip benefits from others' faith in God, without expressing any himself. It's not clear if the movie sees this as one of his flaws.

In the hospital Whip meets a cancer patient and Nadine, a heroin addict who almost died from an overdose, when they all sneak into the same stairwell to smoke. Having had too many brushes with mortality in the same day, Whip is determined to stop drinking. When his old friend and supplier hippy Harling stops by the hospital to replenish his stash, Whip refuses. Cigarettes are the only vice he wants to keep. He orders Harling to keep liquor and drugs away from him.

The press is camped out at his condo, so he goes to his old family farm to hide out. When he plugs in his cell, he's got dozens of waiting voice mails. I'm impressed because the phone is already fully charged. Even without a crash, an airplane flight always drains my cell battery.

Searching the farm barn and quarters, Whip dumps all the liquor he can find, resisting temptation. But when he hears the FAA is investigating the crash and the fact that he was drunk on the flight, he's angry and indignant. His condition had nothing to do with the tragedy. The plane was falling apart. It was in poor mechanical condition, it broke down in mid-air and he saved it when no one else could have. He feels he ought to be thanked, not investigated and resents the attorney provided for him by the pilot's union. His drinking problem -- it's not a problem. It's not what caused the crash. It's no one's business but his own. Lashing out, he abandons abstinence and soon finds himself driving under the influence to the home of the heroin addict he met at the hospital.

He rescues Nadine from her violent landlord, takes her back to his farm and the two of them embark on a relationship that's surprisingly pure, given its participants.

The pressure mounts for Whip. With 6 passengers dead, he's not only facing an FAA investigation, but criminal charges which could put him in jail for life. Nadine joins AA and gets sober. He supports her progress, but doesn't want to be preached to. He accuses her of finding excuses. She drinks because her mother died of cancer? Lots of people lose loved ones to cancer. They don't drink. He refuses to blame someone else. He chooses to drink. He has an ex-wife and son who don't talk to him, because, "I choose to drink." He denies being unable to control it. But when he ends the night in another drunken stupor, Nadine leaves.

Meanwhile, the FAA case against him appears to be going well. They did a toxicology test on him at the hospital which showed the liquor and cocaine in his blood, but the lawyer got it thrown out. They found two empty liquor bottles in the plane's trash though and Whip may still be asked about those at the hearing. Except for Katerina (who'd been out drinking with him the night before), all the other crew members tested clean for drugs and alcohol and there was no beverage service on the flight, so the passengers didn't drink. The lawyer knows the alcohol was Whip's. Whip bristles curses out the lawyer and his union rep. Only to show up at the rep's house later, with nowhere and no one else to turn to.

He's sober for 9 days, pending his FAA hearing. Things are nearly homefree on the eve of the proceeding and they take him to a hotel in the same building where he will be testifying the next morning. They place a security guard outside of Whip's hotel door and clean the refrigerator of all booze, so he won't be tempted. The night is interminable. Whip is restless. He hears bumping in the night and finds that the door to the connecting room is open. He goes inside, closes the open window that caused the door to bank and is leaving when he hears the hum of the refrigerator. MINI BAR. He opens the door of the fridge which is, unrealistically, stocked with nothing but liquor. Every variety you can think of. It's almost comical. Whip lingers over the contents, takes out a tiny bottle of Blue Goose. Vodka is his greatest weakness of all. He fingers it, but then sets it down on the fridge top and leaves. As the audience sighs with relief (and a whiff of skepticism), we hear a dramatic thump as Whip's hand snatches into the frame and snatches that bottle of vodka, with the speed of a frog's tongue catching a fly.

Of course, by the time the lawyer and union rep show up the next day, Whip is smashed, passed out on the floor.

They think all is lost. The FAA hearing is just 45 minutes away. There's no way to get him sobered up by then. But they call Harling and he has just the cure. Cocaine. It will bring Whip back up and reverse those hangover symptoms. Harling prepares Whip for a snort with the precision of a operating room surgeon requesting instruments. When he asks for a "cocoa puff," Whip's staid attorney suspiciously knows just what he means, suggesting that he must have "experimented" himself back in the day.

The coke up his nose, Whip is soon revived. With consciousness, his confidence also returns. He's alert and assured. Looks like he'll make a decent FAA witness after all. The union rep reminds him that when the investigator asks him questions, it's ok to say he doesn't know. "Don't tell me how to lie about my drinking," Whip orders, "I've been lying about it all my life."

The hearing is a breeze and the investigator is easy, on Whip's side. He's been lauded as a hero and the airplane's equipment has been found faulty and aged. In her mind, Whip is testifying as a witness, not a suspect.

She's at the end of her questioning and comes to the two empty bottles found in the plane's garbage bin. They don't have his toxicology report, but Whip has already denied drinking for the 72 hours preceding the crash. Katerina is the only crew member who tested positive for alcohol, plus she had a history of abuse. She had been in rehab just 16 months ago, in fact. So, is it Whip's opinion that Katarina was the crew member who drank those bottles of alcohol.

This is where my belief lost its suspension. It's the dramatic highlight of the film and Denzel Washington does a triumphant job with these scene, but this line of cross-examination is ridiculous. First of all, the fact that two empty bottles of liquor were found on the plane does not mean that one of the crew members drank the contents. Empty bottles are just empty. Consumption is suggested, but not proven. Secondly, while an expert can provide an expert opinion, a layperson can only testify as to facts within his personal knowledge. Whip may be an expert on flight, but he's not an expert on the likelihood of crew member imbibition. That question from the FAA examiner would have warranted immediate objection and Whip would never have been compelled to answer it in real life.

Of course, the question could have been rephrased. Whip could properly be asked if he saw Katarina drink the liquor or know how the bottles ended up in the trash. But no lawyer would have allowed him to be asked his thoughts or opinions about whether Katerina could possibly have downed the liquor in those empty bottles outside of his presence. Still, his crack attorney and protective union rep apparently asleep on the job, Whip is asked this absurd question not once but three times. He breaks under the pressure and says that Katarina was not drinking on that plane, she was saving a little boy's life. He was the one who drank. He drank on each of the three days before the flight and he drank on the day of the flight. He drank, because he's an alcoholic.

Washington's Whip doesn't break down or crack up. He sweats. He tells the truth. He reacts, without over-acting. It's a performance of subtle depth.

Post-script, Whip is sober and in jail. He'll be there for 5 years or more. He's telling his story to the other inmates, a message of warning and redemption. He's imprisoned, but says that it's the first time he's felt free in years. We next see him in his cell writing studiously. Pictures of Nadine and other friends adorn his walls. He has an unexpected visitor. It's his son. If this was supposed to be an emotional finale, it falls short and pales in comparison to the hearing scene we just witnessed. Whip's son has been a presence throughout the movie, but not a concrete character. More of a symbol of the life Whip fled through alcohol. I suppose now that Whip is sober, it's natural for him to return to those things that he abandoned, but due to an earlier confrontational scene between father and son, the kid isn't likable to me and I'd just as soon have had him remain all symbol, no screen time.

Whip, on the other hand, is pleased to see the boy from whom he's been estranged, Whip is proud when he is asked to help him with a school essay about the most fascinating person he's . . . never known. Taken aback, Whip is hurt to hear that his son considers him a stranger, but he collects himself and wants to start mending fences. He's ready for them to get to know one another. Who are you the kid asks? That's a good question.

I don't remember myself but another moviegoer told me that The Pelican Brief ended in similar fashion.

The film was good, moving without being melodramatic or (too) maudlin. Some elements (like the estranged husband and ex-wife) were cliche, but the hackneyed components played so small a part in the script that they could be forgiven.

Whip was an arrogant, drunk with an abundance of compassionate qualities. Thus, he was likable, but you weren't rooting for him to beat the rap he deserved either. Washington made Whip very human, whether hero or culprit.

The rest of the cast was just as good, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Don Cheadle. The only false note was played by Tamara Tunie (Margaret). At Katarina's funeral, Margaret was supposed to be tearful but wasn't. Whip wiped away non-existent drops from her face. It just seemed like we caught the actress pretending.

All in all though, Flight does take off.