If you saw the trailer for a film that included Denzel Washington as a badass pilot flying a plane upside down to avoid anyone being killed in a flight which is destined to end dramatically, would you buy your ticket right away? What if I changed ‘badass’ to ‘alcoholic and dead beat’ and that the movie mentioned above was really about addiction, would you still be running to the multiplex to catch it? My review after the jump.
Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a pilot who’s revered overnight for saving a plane full of passengers during a flight that went AWOL. His efforts included literally flying the plane upside down as it plummeted mid air before a miracle crash landing which caused the plane to roll to the ground rather than violently crashing. Due to this unorthodox strategy a large number of lives were saved. However, it is soon revealed that alcohol and cocaine were found in his system, thus proving that he was in fact drunk and high during this heroic escapade.
From this moment we witness Whip’s serious decline into alcoholism and cocaine addiction. He is out of control and knows no limits, yet he must do everything in his power to overcome said addictions before his court hearing, which if found guilty will result in him spending a very long time in prison. Was he dangerous when flying the plane? Can he fight his addiction and truly understand the problem he has? Is he really the hero the media portray him to be?
Flight is written by John Gatins (Real Steel, Summer Catch) and directed by Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Back to the Future) and is a departure for both involved. Yes, the efforts are admirable but in the end what you’ve got is a 138 minute midday movie with complex questions that arise but are answered and presented with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Every single facet of this film is spoon-fed to its audience – from blatant (and out of place) song choices to camera angles and editing choices. What saves all of this from being something you’d watch with your grandmother on free to air TV? Denzel Washington’s performance. He convinces you of every line or action his character would make, and considering the ridiculous lengths this character goes to, that’s a mighty feat.
As disappointing as this sounds, one scene in particular highlights the poor writing and direction, which includes their introduction to the character. It’s 7 am, and he drinks beer, smokes a joint and snorts coke with a fully nude woman….ALL IN ONE SCENE. Do we need all of that to tell us he’s reckless and without boundaries? There is also the junkie character Nicole (Kelly Reilly) who is awkwardly wedged in between the pivotal moments of the story to force confronting moments about addiction. If her scenes had been taken out entirely, what would’ve been missed? Just more messages regarding addiction. We can already see Whip’s demise and constant reliance on alcohol. Despite a good performance from Reilly, her character is largely superfluous.
It’s silly decisions on the film-maker’s part that really bury the intelligence of Flight‘s screenplay; not necessarily the dialogue or scenarioes, but the story’s structure and the questions it raises. In saying all of that, the scene involving the almost-plane crash is exceptionally well done; and the performances from John Goodman, Don Cheadle and Bruce Greenwood are more than adequate. There’s a great film hidden in this messy drama that I so badly wanted to be fleshed out. I really wanted to care but the film made it hard too. It all seemed bogged down by silly directorial choices and irritating song choices that would’ve only seemed remotely fitting in a courtroom drama from the 90’s.
With a lead performance of the highest calibre, Flight prevents itself from being awful; but with so much untapped potential, how can one not wonder what could’ve been? It would’ve been beneficial for Zemeckis to let these characters tell the story rather than hitting us over the head with music and extreme close-ups of tears rolling down cheeks to emphasise the weight of each situation. Don’t let the trailers fool you, this is not a court case drama or an exhilarating adventure-thriller. And please, oh please, don’t pre-drink beforehand.
By Chris Elena
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer(s): John Gatins
Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Kelly Reilly
Runtime: 138 minutes
Release Date(s): Australia: January 31, 2013; New Zealand: February 6, 2013; USA: November 2, 2012