Starring Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Tamara Tunie, Nadine Velazquez, Brian Geraghty, Peter Gerety, Garcelle Beauvais, Justin Martin
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
The elements for a fantastic movie are in place, but Flight is much too long-winded and unfocused to get its point across succinctly. I really did like the film, don’t get me wrong, but there’s only so many scenes of Denzel Washington throwing caution to the wind and getting drunk that I can take. I suppose that’s all part of his journey, but it felt long to me. In any case, at its heart Flight is a movie about alcoholism. Anyone who’s dealt with an alcoholic (or with addiction itself) can tell you that it’s a frustrating experience, and Flight recreates that frustration wonderfully. I’m unsure if that’s a compliment, but I’m pretty sure it is… I think.
Flight tells the story of Whip Whitaker, a pilot with a serious substance abuse problem, particularly vodka and cocaine (but he’ll take what he can get). If only someone had told him about all the great low cost and free rehabs for addicts out there. Anyway, the film opens on the aftermath of a night of sex and heavy drinking, and in just a few hours Whip must pilot a commercial airliner from Florida to Atlanta. It’s a short flight… what could go wrong? Everything, apparently. Once in the air, the turbulence is immense, but despite his drunkenness he’s still a good pilot who’s confident and able to do his job. This flight sequence is unforgettable and incredibly well-done, easily the most thrilling and memorable scene in the film. Shame it comes at the beginning, especially in such a long, understated character study.
Flight is underscored with a lot of moral questions, but it’s really up to the viewer to find the answers these questions pose. In some films that might signal poor filmmaking, and in others brilliant, thought-provoking filmmaking. In Flight, I don’t think it’s either, instead something of a blending of the two. The main question, whether Whip should be prosecuted for his actions or raised up as a hero, is ever-present, and the film does answer this question, albeit somewhat noncommittally. [Potential spoilers:] I think if Zemeckis really had some cojones he’d have delivered a different ending, but I can totally understand why the ending is the way it is. The film is more about alcoholism and the deep holes it puts you in than it is about Whip himself, so the ending does fit well when seen from that angle. The last line is even a question, “Who are you?” directed towards Whip. We’ve just gone through an entire film with him and pretty much the only thing we know about Whip is that he was an alcoholic. We’ve known his disease, but not the man underneath. That moment in and of itself is a great one, and really hit home for me. [/End Spoilers]
Denzel is one of the great actors of our times, performing admirably time and time again. In Flight he inhabits the character of Whip completely, making us believe that he’s slavishly devoted to his destructive habits and unable to see the damage they’re doing to his life. The film is about him to a fault, though, as the supporting characters live up to their name by doing almost nothing besides supporting the main character. Many of these characters come and go without ceremony, only to return in small moments to move the drama forward as needed. That might sound like any ol’ movie, but Flight is especially obvious in this regard. I suppose they all add their bits and pieces to the movie, enriching the experience, but it felt odd while I was watching it. A small concern, I guess, and one that doesn’t really matter after the fact. As a parable about the destruction alcoholism can cause to a life, the characters all serve their purposes well.
My issues aside, Flight is a good movie with many things to offer patient viewers. It’s frustrating in the same way that dealing with an alcoholic is frustrating, so if you’re up for that (and who isn’t :)), then confidently dive into Flight. There are better movies about alcoholism and addiction out there, but Flight is an interesting tale that features an incredible sequence of flying terror. Those with a fear of flying will want to keep the barf bag handy during that one.