Review of Flight

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Directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Denzel Washington and Kelly Reilly. An investigation of a pilot's emergency landing saving every soul on-board, leads to a troubling discovery after his new-found fame as a hero which could land him with life in prison.
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Denzel Washington has the skill of a pilot-ninja but the alcohol problem of a 14-year-old Lindsay Lohan in “Flight”, the first time the actor has worked with director Robert Zemeckis. It’s a fantastic fit; the director’s gift for technical effects and a large dose of humanity with an actor who’s never less than compelling. You just wish “Flight” weren’t so familiar and straightforward though.

Washington plays Captain Whip Whitaker, who as we first see him is boozing and snorting cocaine. He’s no stranger to these things since they’ve alienated him from his ex-wife and son.

On this day he has a plane to catch from Florida to Atlanta, and he’s flying. This lax attitude undoubtedly has a little to do with a sure, confident hand of an aircraft, which we see early on and again during the film’s one breathtaking, edge of your seat action sequence as the plane loses vertical control, leaving Whip to do everything in his power to avoid all-out disaster (this includes turning the plane upside down) and give the plane as smooth a landing as possible. He’s so calm and collected here that he even tells the flight attendant to tell her son she loves him (through the black box) for good measure. It should be no surprise Zemeckis staged this as he did another incredible technical achievement on “Castaway” as well.

Whip’s quick thinking saves most of the crew and the passengers but it’s still too many casualties for his taste (he also loses a close friend within the 6 casualties), which makes him want to turn his life around and drop the booze. This lasts for approximately a couple days until Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle), the criminal negligence lawyer for the airline, shows up with a blood alcohol level report that proves significant, even if the crash was due to plane malfunction. As Lang tries to render the report invalid, Whip collapses under the weight of scrutiny, retreating into an even heavier boozey lifestyle.

Washington handles the clichés of alcoholism (denial, self-pity, inner pain) with vulnerability and often frightening ways but often the movie just feels like it’s wallowing in it; not much stands out from every other addiction film. Not only that but the God’s plan angle (this being a possible wake-up call for Whip to straighten out) writer John Gatins comes up with basically gives us a black and white view of morality when really it feels like the emotions at work here should be much more complicated.

The rest of the cast come in and out. Kelly Reilly plays a recovering heroin addict who meets Whip in the hospital but the movie never makes clear what the nature of their relationship should be. And John Goodman adds some funny scenes as Whip’s wild-dude best friend. It’s really Washington’s movie though and he turns in excellent work, ensuring the film never bores. Unfortunately it also has too many inconsistencies in the drama department to really recommend it.