To borrow a phrase from a friend I went to see this movie with, “This isn’t your dad’s Robert Zemeckis”.
We’ve done it folks, we’ve finally emerged out of the Fall Doldrums and entered into “The Holiday Season”. No longer will we be plagued with duds like Alex Cross, Fun Size and Silent Hill: Revelation, for in its infinite wisdom Hollywood decided that it would take all of the projects it didn’t really want and thrown them into September and October, aka the Isle of Misfit Movies. This November got its start with a fun-for-all-ages nostalgia trip and a long awaited return to live action by Robert Zemeckis, director of such modern classics as Forrest Gump, Cast Away and all three Back to the Future movies. The latter is what this review will concern, after which point I will review Wreck-It Ralph later on today. Flight occasionally treads much of the same ground as other addiction-focused films, but a dynamite performance from Denzel is augmented by a very strong script and makes the film a more-than-welcome return to form for Zemeckis.
The first 30 minutes or so play out almost exactly like what you’d expect them to: Whip (Denzel Washington) is a pilot who saves his crew and passengers from certain death with a set of daredevil maneuvers, only to encounter persecution in the aftermath for the alcohol in his system at the time of the crash. However, there are a few details that the trailers skim over. For one thing, Whip doesn’t just have alcohol in his system, he has A LOT of alcohol in his system, not to mention cocaine. For another, not everyone survives the crash. Lastly and most importantly, Whip is any but “A soul whose intentions are good”, and the majority of the film is not focused on the crashing and burning of of an airliner but the crashing and burning of Whip Whitaker.
Before I move on to Whip, I’d like to give a few honorable mentions to the supporting cast. Perhaps the biggest of these goes to Kelly Reilly (Watson’s fiance from Sherlock Holmes) as Nicole, a struggling addict who meets Whip at the hospital and is later taken in by him when she is evicted from her apartment. Nicole is a mess, to be sure, but by putting her character’s frail dedication to her own sobriety next to Whip’s self-serving denial of his own alcohol abuse was a great contrast in more than a few scenes.
Next we have Bruce Greenwood as Whip’s Union Rep, Charlie, and Don Cheadle as Hugh Lang, a pick-axe of a lawyer from Chicago hired to defend Whip against his criminal charges. Charlie and Hugh act as Whip’s support crew throughout the film, and the sense of their “Good Cop, Bad Cop” roles was well-matched by both actors. There is one scene in particular on the day of Whip’s hearing with the NTSB that I can understand some people having an issue with, but for me it was a great look into the relationship between Charlie, Hugh and Whip. With the small exception of Charlie, both “Handlers” are more concerned with winning the case than getting Whip on the road to recovery, which really cements the idea of just how alone Whip is at the end of the day.
Last, but not least, we have Whip himself. For me, Whip was simultaneously the most dynamic and the most cliche’d character in the film. On one hand, Denzel plays Whip exceedingly well and from my experience was more than able to capture the manipulation, the deception, and self-alienation of a real addict. On the other hand, this isn’t something that hasn’t been done before. Plenty of good movies have centered around addict main characters, so the ensuing set of relapses, recoveries, lies and making of amends is no stranger to most moviegoers. In any case, the audience’s familiarity with this type of character means that it falls squarely on the shoulders of the actor or actress playing the lead to make a film effective and memorable, and Washington succeeds on both accounts here. The actor has a certain degree of likability and his character does manage to come across as charming or sincere at times, but that only makes it that much more painful every time he raises yet another drink to his mouth and every time he lies to someone who cares about him.
Without strong writing, even the best actors can easily fail to capture their audience’s attention, but that isn’t the case here. The dialogue feels real and the actions of the characters make sense, even if those actions aren’t always hard to watch. Perhaps the most significant accomplishment by the script is its ability to take a character like Whip and make him so dis-likable that the audience doesn’t understand why they are still rooting for him at the end of the day, yet for the most part they are. If anything, I’d say my biggest problem with the script is how quickly the turnarounds come for Whip, whether positive or negative. There are a few changes in heart that I felt could’ve been better led up to, but I won’t spoil anything further.
The Verdict: 8.0/10 Pretty Damn Great
Like I said above, this is not a movie about a plain crash. It’s a movie about addiction, and if you come into the theater expecting something else, you may be disappointed. I say may because I was expecting something else when I bought my ticket, but the strength of Washington’s performance kept me glued to my seat without much hesitation. There ending may leave some people dissatisfied, but I understand the direction Zemeckis decided to go with it. To the director’s credit, Flight is a much more mature film than he usually puts out but it doesn’t feel like he is trying to force anything, I’m only disappointed that his next project The Yellow Submarine represents yet another return to animation for Zemeckis.
P.S. John Goodman is fucking awesome in everything he does.
Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 8.0/10
The Daily Rich: (Negative)