Overview: After his plane crashes, sparking an investigation, a commercial pilot must deal with the consequences of his addictions. Paramount Pictures; 2012; Rated R; 138 Minutes.
Zemeckis’ Return: Flight marks Robert Zemeckis’ return to live-action film after a twelve year absence (Cast Away, 2000). The opening chain-of-events announces that he’s gathered no rust in the interim. From the moment the plane takes off in stormy conditions to its emergency, upside-down descent, the crash sequence is the most horrifyingly presented plane emergency in film history.
Denzel’s Reliability: Denzel Washington, known for roles of incendiary power and control, exudes here a sense of helplessness, a full on lack of control. If nothing else, Flight is interesting to watch and easy to remember for this– the moment that an aging Washington expanded his résumé skill-set to include an unforeseen ability. Most of the film is focused on Whip Whitaker’s downward spiral. Here, Washington presents an addict built on the inversion of his normal presence: a man who states his control of his situation when all indicators, external and internal, tell us otherwise. While a solid portrayal, the subject matter of addiction is oft-explored and worn out, and the film’s investigation of Whip offers nothing new beyond the extreme circumstances under which they occur.
Supporting Cast: Kelly Reilly joins Washington onscreen as fellow addict and romantic interest Nicole. Nicole is quietly and unobtrusively able to color Whip with sadness, a clean mirror of addiction and its power to destroy, and while her side story compounds the movie’s dull fixation with the melodramatic, her performance is spot on. I hope to see Kelly Reilly in many more movies. John Goodman delivers his standard comic relief as Whip’s drug dealer Harling while Don Cheadle stares intensely in imitation of the airline-appointed attorney handling the case, Hugh Lang.
A Cocaine Advertisement: So, I can’t be the only one who noticed. While this movie is expressly concerned with Washington’s alcoholism, it seems apathetic toward what one would think to be the more dangerous substance of abuse. The traces of cocaine in the blood sample taken at the scene of the accident is the first piece of evidence dismissed from the case. Quickly brushed aside and never re-addressed. Washington’s dramatic climactic confession reveals only his insobriety at the use of alcohol. “I drank to excess… I was drunk… I’m drunk right now… I’m an alcoholic.” Never mind that the morning of the crash he was also using cocaine the way some use Starbucks. And never mind that his attorney and union representative loaded him up on cocaine five minutes before the hearing. I point this out not in moral objection, but general amusement. It’s a humorous notion that one of Denzel Washington’s finest performances will stand as an advertisement for cocaine as blasé as a shitty Five Hour Energy radio ad.
Overall: While weighted by its insistence on standard melodrama and tired subject matter, the technical strength of its plane crash and the performances of its two leads make Flight worth a viewing.
Grade: C +