Flight Review: Despite Some Turbulence, This Film Shoots Sky High

Photo: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/movies/robert-zemeckis-returns-to-live-action-movies-with-flight.html

Director Robert Zemeckis makes a welcome return to live action films with this unflinching tale of addiction and inner-demons.  There are a few bumps in the road that stop Flight from truly taking off, but it is still a compelling journey to follow.

Anyone hoping for an action-packed adventure movie should look elsewhere (might I suggest the latest James Bond outing?).  This film is much more a character study than a thrill ride.  Denzel Washington plays Captain Whip Whitaker, a divorced airline pilot who struggles with alcohol and cocaine addiction.  His emotional turmoil is hard to ignore, and is the basis for most of the film.  That being said, the first few scenes will have you on the edge of your seat.

After waking up still drunk from the night before and doing a few lines of coke, Whip is forced to get his head in the game when the plane he’s flying begins to nose dive.  Zemeckis amps up the suspense, taking viewers inside the cramped cockpit where Whip, his co-pilot Ken (Brian Geraghty), and flight attendant Margaret (Tamara Tunie) scramble to save all the lives onboard.  Quick cuts of the passenger seating area and the outside of the plane are thrown into the mix, as it speeds toward the ground.  It all makes for an electrifying sequence, giving off a sense of realness that will have your heart racing.

Thankfully Whip is a talented pilot, even when he’s wasted.  Using a calm demeanor, he manages to safely land the plane with minimal casualties.  Unfortunately, his real troubles begin once he’s back on the ground.  Toxicology reports find the drugs and booze in his system and, even though it’s clear the plane wouldn’t have landed as safely without him, he’s forced to go on trial.  This part of the film switches to an awkward change of pace, as it moves much more stoically than the pulse-pounding opener.  Whip is unhappy with his circumstances, and his alcohol-fueled encounters with others don’t help much.

The players in his life include his former navy buddy Charlie (Bruce Greenwood), the Lawyer assigned to his case Hugh (Don Cheadle), his enabling drug dealer Harling (John Goodman in a small, but splashy role), and a recovering heroin addict named Nicole (Kelly Reilly) whom he takes under his wing.  This last acquaintance marks a weak point in the film, as the two meet in the hospital–he recovering from the crash, she recovering from an overdose–and quickly form a bond.  Obviously they both share the fatal flaw of drug addiction, but their relationship progresses so fast that it is more than a little unbelievable.

Nicole is necessary, though, as she shows that Whip hurts others even when he’s trying to help.  His drinking and drugging is just too out of control.  Washington portrays this all with a haunting authenticity, turning in a powerhouse performance that will likely earn him an Oscar nod.  He’s never over-the-top or melodramatic.  He infuses Whip with a kind of sullen darkness that makes it both hard to watch him, and hard to look away.  The press hails him as a hero, and indeed he is.  But his morals become more and more unclear as his true self is revealed.

Luckily, the film picks up speed again as the trial gets closer and closer.  The ending has just about the same amount of nail-biting tension that filled the beginning plane crash scene.  I won’t give away what happens, but it’s unexpected to say the least.

Though it falters during its lengthy middle section, Flight is a movie that is worth seeing through.  Washington’s performance cannot be ignored, and the scenes of excitement loom large over the scenes that are a little more lackluster.  Zemeckis might not have created a twisty action film, but he’s made one hell of a story about one hell of a guy.  Grade: B+

2 Responses to Flight Review: Despite Some Turbulence, This Film Shoots Sky High

  1. Chris says:

    I think it was pretty deep.

  2. wario florez says:

    This movie ………..brought an open mind perspective on how hard it was to be sober but still kept on to trying to break an stronghold that might’ve been six feet down from life, himself ,and family but kept in mind that to make a determinenation is a breakthough …….like he said he’s” free”…..that’s why its called” flight “…..its freedom. This was the best movie ….thanks.

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