Director: Robert Zemeckis
Writer: John Gatins
Stars: Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood
Release date: November 2nd, 2012
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 138 minutes
Best part: The plane crash sequence.
Worst part: Some awkward religious preachings.
Remember the events of January 15, 2009? US Airways Flight 1549 departed from New York City’s LaGuadia Airport. Shortly after take-off, fortuitous circumstances forced the pilot, Capt. Chesley Sullenburger, to ditch the plane into the Hudson River. Flight depicts a similar story of a brush with death and destiny. It’s a stirring achievement, capturing every detail of a startling and emotional narrative.
Thankfully, this particular story is fictional. The idea of capturing a disastrous event from one person’s perspective is certainly an alluring one. Here, the pilot of a fateful flight is put on the chopping block. Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) wakes up early one morning with a raging hangover, bottles strewn all over his hotel room and a naked air hostess, Katerina (Nadine Velazquez), waltzing out of his bed. After an angering phone call, he snorts a line of cocaine and makes his way to the airport. His decrepit state is no match for flying, but he does it anyway. Obtaining a wink of shut-eye and tiny Vodka bottles on the flight, his fun times are disrupted by a heart-wrenching jolt. Rolling the plane in mid air before crash landing in an open field, his miraculous actions save 96 out of the 102 souls on board. Despite being labelled a hero, his issues are far from over. Whip must then collide with various ‘acts of god’ and the demons of his past, before incriminating evidence sends him into a deeper emotional spiral.
Flight is a profound and engaging film that is definitely not for the faint of heart. This character study, sure to anger some and scare others, is a truly vital experience for anyone used to being under the influence or in over their heads. This story of temptation is one of many to deal with mental instability and intoxication. It succeeds due to its compelling story of faith and well-being. Washington’s intense performance adds poignancy to his already solid character. Whitaker is clearly a troubled individual. The outcome of this investigation rests almost entirely on his behaviour. He never means to fail, yet alcohol and illicit drugs continually draw him back into making the same pathetic mistakes. Every time he looks into a bottle he sees a shining light which briefly takes him away from his gruelling problems. As a man without a family, hope or true identity, his story is about acceptance more so than finding a miraculous cure. Issues concerning trust and father/son relationships also become part of this heart-wrenching journey. He must find freedom before the press and airline officials take it away.
This story deals with faith in a way that never talks down to religion nor elevates it. This ‘act of god’ is merely a sign of something much greater for Whitaker. It allows him to make up his own mind about faith and humanity. But the film is not without its over-bearing moments. At one point, a cancer patient hammers home preachings about fate. It’s a funny scene, but one that could’ve finished with a much less abrasive conclusion. The accident helps Whitaker find solace through other individuals. Sub-plots, though effective in establishing Whitaker’s emotional complexity, fail to develop beyond a certain point. At one stage, he becomes intimately acquainted with a down-on-her-luck addict, Nicole (Kelly Reilly). The first half-hour provides a window into her degraded existence. She struggles to pay rent, frequently injects herself with illicit substances and almost falls into pornography. It seems she may become a much more important character. However, her involvement ceases when Whitaker is depicted in a more enlightening manner.
“Hey, don’t tell me how to lie about my drinking, okay? I know how to lie about my drinking. I’ve been lying about my drinking my whole life.” (Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington), Flight).
Director Robert Zemeckis is, arguably, one of the most versatile directors in film history. He has gone from classic action-adventure (Romancing the Stone, the Back to the Future series), to uplifting drama (Forrest Gump, Cast Away), to imaginative motion capture-driven animation (Beowulf). Flight combines Zemeckis’ talents into a moving and thought-provoking experience. The plane crash sequence is one of the most vertigo and tension-inducing set pieces since Cast Away (his last live-action film). Zemeckis smartly concentrates on the emotions flowing through this unpredictable event. It should leave any viewer biting their nails or tightly holding the arm rest. This claustrophobic sequence, ironically, launches the film sky high. The supporting cast is vital to this personal drama. Bruce Greenwood is his usual charismatic self as Whitaker’s frustrated friend. Don Cheadle is an enlightening presence as Whitaker’s determined lawyer. In their first film together since Devil in a Blue Dress, Washington and Cheadle create a comfortable dynamic here. While the ubiquitous John Goodman steals the show as Whitaker’s vulgar and hilarious hippie-esque Drug dealer. He breathes a sigh of relief into an otherwise dark narrative.
Washington has delivered his most ground-breaking work in years. Flight is an electric and potent story of hope and redemption. Denzel, delivering his best performance since Training Day, grapples his A-list statues and never lets go. With so many intimate elements, Zemeckis’ new film is flying high.