From the opening scenes it was apparent that Flight was not going to be like other Robert Zemeckis films. It is his way of coming back into live action cinema. Full frontal nudity, drugs and alcohol are always the right ingredients for a some kind of character crash (no pun intended) and what I like about the first few scenes is that we didn’t have to wait long for our anti hero to show us his demons.
The story follows an arrogant, confident, drug using alcoholic veteran pilot William “Whip” Whittaker who doesn’t seem to think he has anything to lose with his reckless behaviour. His life seem to be one big groundhog day of alcohol, sex, drugs, airport hotel rooms and with the company of a similarly addicted stewardess, he just doesn’t give a damn. He uses alcohol to get him down and when he is ready to fly or look the part, he uses cocaine to make him high. Whip is a man with a serious problem. His ex-wife, cabin crew and friends all know it but the only person that needs convincing is Whip.
When he gets into the cockpit on that fateful day, his co pilot Ken Evans (Brian Geraghty) is instantly on edge as he can see that Whip is clearly not someone who should be trusted with the lives of “102 souls”.
Even when tired and falling asleep next to an already nervous co-pilot he manages to control the situation but it goes downhill when he starts pouring vodka into his orange juice while addressing the very people are entrusting him with their lives.
The plane begins to have problems and Whip, drunk but mentally sharp, lands his bird as it literally falls apart. He shows himself to be a quick thinking genius for calculating ways to slow the plane’s plunge and recover control, even turning the plane 180 degrees to level before guiding it to a crash landing saving all but 6 lives. The intensity of the visuals, the screams of the passengers/crew and the screeching of the plane alike balanced with the final impact, creates one of the most impressively scary crash scenes ever created on film. Zemeckis’s use of slow motion and stedicam shots throughout the crash and its immediate aftermath captures every moment of horror.
The rest of the film deals with the aftermath of the crash and the remarkable way Whip took on the crash landing that did not resolve in the deaths of the entire 102 people on board. As the NTS (National Transportation Safety Board) begins to investigate, blood samples confirm that Whip had high levels of alcohol and cocaine in his blood. The lawyers and the union assure Whip that they can smooth this over, that he’s a hero, but that he has to stop drinking as the investigation means his every move is being scrutinised.
This proves easier said than done, and that’s when you realize that this is not a movie about flying or pilots, but about alcoholism, drugs, relapses, and redemptions.
The shift in tone and style between the film’s frenzied opening and the slow burning of Whitaker’s awakening provides a solid frisson which, it quickly and disappointingly becomes apparent, Zemeckis cannot maintain and the same can be said about DW’s character.
Many of the characters are flat — almost archetypes. The drug addict, the Bible bashers, the slick lawyer and the back-slapping borderline redneck southern airline owner. There’s very little character development in the film, including that of Whip, despite the performance Denzel puts on. Don Cheadle as Whitaker’s union defence attorney Hugh Lang comes in and does his job with no gimmicks. He is knowledgeable, fiesty and steadfast. John Goodman’s cameo performance as Whip’s drug buddy/dealer was one of the most idiotic castings I have witnessed in a long time. His loud attire and persona didn’t bring anything to the story other than highlighting Whip’s crazy past and present.
Goodman just didn’t need to be there and his character looked liked he came right out of another film like “The Hangover in The Jungle”.
As for Kelly Reilly’s drug addicted character Nicole, her onscreen struggles with Whip was flat and dull. Both their journeys towards sobriety and redemption seemed spaced out. Him with a busted and bruised body, trying to beat up her landlord? She telling him he needs help with his drinking? No Shit! Zemeckis seemed like he was trying to fill in some running time. However I am grateful that once she vanished off our screens she didn’t come back.
Okay so that was bit mean – on her own I think her story would have been great but with Denzel rarely being off scene it was hard for the Brit to make her mark in this.
James Badge Gale makes an outstanding cameo as a cancer patient. He completely steals the scene from DW and KR altogether. His semi religious monologue about the specter of God and of how much control we have over our own lives was so enticing and powerful that when he went off screen I wanted to follow HIS story.
Was this DW’s best film? If Training Day is anything to go by then I’d say no, not by a long shot. Denzel being paralytic on the floor surrounded by empty beer bottles while mumbling to himself, no, not right. DW is missing something in “Flight”..and I feel like I can’t connect or feel any empathy for DW’s character.
I think Zemeckis missed the mark with this live action and I guess I just miss his thirst for technological innovations which he boastfully showed off in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Forrest Gump”.
The title of the film can be interpreted as a metaphor as the story really is about a man who’s life goes down like that plane.
It is a good film, it’s just not a great film and dare I say Denzel Washington only received an oscar nomination, well, because he is Denzel Washington.
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Stars: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Melissa Leo, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood
Screenplay: John Gatins
Runtime: 139 mins
Enjoy the trailer