Dan's Review: Flight

Published 10/31 2012 09:36AM

Updated 11/02 2012 01:52PM

Denzel Washington in Flight.
Denzel Washington in Flight./Paramount
Flight (Paramount)

Rated R for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence.

Starring Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood, Tamara Tunie, Brian Geraghty, Nadine Velazquez, Melissa Leo.

Written by John Gatins.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis.



I don't know if there are any studies as to why some people are afraid of flying, but I'd guess that movies about plane crashes might be a major contributing factor to such fears. As movie special effects have improved over the years, such cinematic air disasters can get a little too real for people who might not like flying to begin with. One such film is Flight, out in theaters this weekend.

Denzel Washington stars as Whip Whitaker, a divorced airline pilot and alcoholic. The story begins as Whip takes the controls of a jet airliner after a drunken night of debauchery with one of his flight attendants. During takeoff, bad weather makes the trip a little too rough, but Whip and his co-pilot Ken (Brian Geraghty) get things under control - until their descent into Atlanta begins. The plane suffers from mechanical failure, causing the aircraft to go into a dive. Whip is able to slow the dive by rolling the craft into an upside-down position, just before rolling back over and crash landing in a field near a church. Miraculously, only a handful of people die (including 2 flight attendants), and Whip is heralded as a hero.

While in the hospital, Whip meets a drug addict named Nicole (Kelly Reilly) and forms a friendship. As he heals from his wounds, Whip falls into a drinking binge, despite allowing Kelly to move in with him.

As the NTSB investigation into the crash continues, it is discovered that Whip was well over the legal limit for most drunk driving laws. Whip's union representative Charlie (Bruce Greenwood) hires an attorney to represent him and hopefully keep the pilot out of jail over the deaths of the crash victims.

Kelly tries to get Whip to stop drinking, but he continues his spiral right up until the NTSB hearing, when he must decide whether to come clean about his substance abuse problem, or let someone else take the blame over some empty vodka containers found during the investigation.

Flight is an interesting story, but suffers from some sort of identity crisis. It has been marketed as some kind of action mystery, but it's really more of a substance abuse drama in the vein of Lost Weekend, When a Man Loves a Woman or Clean and Sober. There are times when the humor seems a little misplaced, like when Whip's drug dealer pal Harling (John Goodman) shows up to help facilitate his dependency. While the dialogue and performances are top-notch, you have to wonder why anyone would laugh at such a terrible thing. Flight's story and pacing tend to drag after the plane crashes as well.

Flight marks Robert Zemeckis' first return to directing live-action films since 2000's Castaway (another plane crash movie, by the way), having spent most of his directorial time with family-friendly motion-capture animation films like The Polar Express, Beowulf and (Disney's) A Christmas Carol. The raw subject matter of substance abuse and debauchery in Flight are another departure for Zemeckis.

Denzel Washington's performance is certainly noteworthy, and may get him a little award consideration, along with Goodman (who gave an equally brilliant performance in Argo).

Flight's dark and depressing story of alcoholism may not be much of a hit with audiences thinking they might be seeing some sort of positive Castaway-type story. In many ways, Flight is a little too much like Castaway in that both films detail one man's struggle to survive. Either way, Flight's story and main character are much less sympathetic than the tale of a man fighting the elements. This time, the main character has plenty of help around him.

It should be noted that Flight earns its R rating with an opening scene including raw nudity. The mature substance abuse and dependency themes are also strictly for grown-ups.

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