Denzel Washington, Nadine Velazquez, Tamara Tunie, Brian Geraghty, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman, Don Cheadle
R for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action
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To board an airplane, one has to have the utmost confidence in one’s pilot. Flight showcases how one man’s ability saved hundreds, but whose addiction brought him down.
Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is an ace pilot. The only man in the world who could have landed an out-of-control plane with minimal loss of life. Yet, his abilities are called into question as his erratic behavior and questionable moral compass force him to go before an FAA panel to answer questions regarding his use of illegal substances and the factors that led to a fatal crash of a plane he was piloting.
Washington’s performance is the chief reason to watch Flight. Not in several years has he stepped beyond his comfort zone and delivered a performance as honest as this. Whip isn’t a likeable guy. He’s a womanizer, a drunk and a drug addict. He presents an outwardly present facade, but that image is stripped away when he gets out of the public eye. Washington doesn’t make Whip endearing, but his portrait of a flawed hero is one of his best.
After years of motion captured animated features, Robert Zemeckis returns to the live-action medium with a haunting, yet flawed portrait of addiction, obsession and the need for redemption. Zemeckis starts Flight with a mesmerizing series of scenes that lead to a harrowing crash landing. It’s the skill of an experienced storyteller and adventure filmmaker that enables this scene to soar. When the plane crashes, the film almost does to, unable to live up to the tension contained in that moment.
That may seem a little unfair, after all the film isn’t really about the crash landing. It’s a movie about a broken man escaping into an altered state of mind where his problems don’t seem as haunting. While he tries multiple times to quit his drinking and drug use, outside influences crop up to drive him back to drinking or, more precisely, give him an excuse to drink again.
It might have been more interesting and certainly more supportive of the film’s final scenes had the film instead focused on his relationship with Katerina Marquez (Nadine Velazquez), one of the stewardesses who lost her life on the flight. Her character is something of an afterthought as far as the film is concerned, but we’re led to believe there was something stronger between the two. Had screenwriter John Gatins explored this aspect, the middle half of the film might have seemed less lumbering.
Instead, we’re given a burgeoning romantic relationship between Whip and Nicole (Kelly Reilly), a porn actress also struggling with addiction. The purpose of her presence in the film is to create the idea that another damaged individual with a drug habit could break away from it successfully even if Whip cannot. Yet, the concurrent scenes with Nicole and her scummy landlord among others just don’t fit well within the framework of the film. Reilly does a serviceable job with what she’s given, but it’s not a character that we need to see and subsequently, her performance appears to fit into a completely different movie.
Tamara Tunie is dependable as one of the surviving stewardesses and John Goodman is far over the top as Whip’s drug dealer. To add legal wrangling to the film’s jumped narrative structure, Don Cheadle delivers a strong performance as Whip’s airline-appointed attorney. He doesn’t have a lot of screentime to work with and does what he can, but he’s yet another concerned outsider hoping to direct Whip towards a resolution that benefits both him and the airline. The rest of the cast enters and leaves their scenes with little notable impact.
This is a movie that doesn’t sit well upon reflection. Looking back at the movie once it’s wrapped, you’re left with a sense of disappointment that there wasn’t more actual substance to it. Washington’s performance is terrific and that opening action sequence is spectacular, but the rest of Flight is so lethargic at times that we struggle to remember what beyond those two elements there realy were to celebrate. There are better protraits of addiction that provide a more researched and capable look into the disastrous life of addiction, but as a portrait of one man struggling to find himself beneath the oppressive hold of drugs and alocohol, Flight works well enough to be satisfying.
March 21, 2013