Directed by Robert Zemeckis.
Starring Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Melissa Leo, Bruce Greenwood, Kelly Reilly and John Goodman.
An airline pilot saves a flight from crashing, but an investigation into the malfunctions reveals something troubling.
Somewhere within the 135 minutes of Robert Zemeckis’ Flight is an interesting and compelling story of admitting one’s failures and taking ownership for one’s actions, with a stunning special-effects centrepiece and a yet another outstanding performance from Denzel Washington. The problem is, there is so many needless scenes, storylines, and characters weighing the film down that it suffers greatly and ends up being a sourly missed opportunity for true greatness.
Firstly, let’s look at the positives. It was refreshing to see a lead character with so many flaws and frailties as Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), an alcoholic airline pilot who doesn’t pretend he’s not got his demons and doesn’t particularly try to help himself, even after the film’s early dramatic events. Whitaker is flying a passenger plane which, through no fault of his own, malfunctions at 10,000 feet and it is only through his outstanding skill that the plane is able to crash land, with ‘only’ six of the 102 people on board losing their life. If it were not for Whitaker, everyone onboard would have been killed and the plane may have crashed over a populated area.
The problem is Whitaker had been binging for the previous four days and even drinks during the flight. The beauty of the film lies within the dilemma Whitaker now faces as criminal actions are taken and insurance claims are made; does he lie about his addiction and blame any faults on others? Or does he own up to those investigating him, and more importantly does he finally own up to himself? For a major Hollywood release with one of the world’s most popular leading men, the moral issues in Flight are full-frontal and unabashed.
The film also sees the welcome return to live-action film making for Robert Zemeckis after his twelve year experiment with ‘photo-realistic’ animation. Zemeckis has built a reputation for pioneering special effects with films such as the Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Death Becomes Her and Forrest Gump and he brings that expertise to the visually stunning plane crash sequence. The camera movement and technique within the plane is excellent and puts the audience right there with the terrified passengers, whilst Washington commands the screen with a calculated performance as a man under tremendous pressure. Moreover, this is the only CGI-heavy scene in the film and is even more successfully executed as it stays with you throughout the duration of the film.
The difference between what works in the film and what doesn’t is simple; when character’s are NOT drinking and taking drugs the film is a success, but for a film which centres on two substance abusers, this is a big problem.
The film features countless scenes of Whitaker hammering down bottles of vodka and beer and stumbling around that it soon becomes tiresome. It offers nothing new on the subject of alcoholism that we haven’t already seen 50 years ago in Days of Wine and Roses or more recently with Leaving Las Vegas. The biggest waste of the screen time is given to the relationship which grows between Whitaker and Nicole, a woman whose story of woe is so hyperbolic, it is never believable; she shoots heroin, she snorts coke, her landlord hits on her, she owes money, she has drug contacts who just happen to work in the hardcore porn industry and offer her a part… The list is endless and without any payoff.
The biggest issue is that the Nicole character and storyline could have been totally removed and changed for something far more original and interesting involving the post-crash investigations and the legal battles which Whitaker finds himself in. Furthermore, the film desperately needed to drop the endless popular songs which come in and cut off, seemingly to evoke a Scorsese-like effect but without the visuals to warrant their inclusion. You may expect this from a first time director yet to find his own style, Zemeckis has been in the game far too long to resort to such cheap thrills.
Flight ends up being an unbalanced, albeit entertaining film. The problem is there should have been so much more if they’d chosen to take out the clichés and shoehorned-in female role. Zemeckis and Washington deserve better, they’ve certainly earned it.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★