Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Director Robert Zemeckis is back with Flight, his first live-action film since 2000's Cast Away (his last few films - The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol - have pushed the envelope in animation). In Cast Away, the movie began with an intense plane crash sequence. In Flight, he follows that same pattern, giving us one of the scariest plane crash sequences I've ever seen.
Except this time, the plane doesn't crash. Pilot Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) somehow manages to avert a catastrophe as he pulls off an amazing emergency landing. His passenger plane carried 102 people on board and after mechanical failure and his amazing job in the cockpit, 96 of these souls survive.
Tragic, yes, but it could have been much worse.
Oh yeah, there is one other minor detail important to the story: Whip is a raging alcoholic and coke-head. He was high and drunk at the time of the crash, even though he was clearly still able to do what he did. Toxicology reports and a few empty vodka bottles on the plane prove that he was under the influence and this information probably wouldn't go over all that well with the public if it were released. In fact, it could result in serious criminal charges.
With that, you have the premise of Flight, a title that has just as much to do with pilots and airplanes as it does with the other definition of the word: To avoid.
With Whip, Denzel creates a mesmerizing, but flawed individual who has a deep reliance on alcohol and drugs. We learn that he has an estranged teenage son and ex-wife and we get some clues to how he may have come to be a pilot. We've seen a multitude of alcoholics portrayed in movies and TV over the years and neither Denzel nor Zemeckis are breaking any new ground here. That being said, Denzel does wonders with this familiar role.
Zemeckis is one of my all-time favorite directors and covers a lot of ground in Flight. The first portion is a suspenseful action movie done very effectively. Then it turns into a sort of mystery, as the authorities try to piece together just what happened on board the plane and who is to blame. But it is ultimately the journey of one man - an alcoholic - looking to find salvation. Whip can save a passenger plane from a nosedive, but he isn't so nimble with his own life.
At over two hours, Flight takes the long way home. Stories about alcoholism can only end one of two ways: The guy is either going to have an epiphany and come clean, or something bad is going to happen. Zemeckis meanders through the story taking a bit too long to wrap up subplots dealing with Whip's love interest (Kelly Reilly), an incredibly funny scene with John Goodman as Whip's cocaine-supplier and a drawn out legal battle resulting in a public hearing where Whip must re-live the events of the crash. How the ending is handled though, was fitting enough.
We never really delve into why Whip has given his life over to booze and drugs, but Denzel's stellar performance always reminds us that whatever it is, it's genuine. Denzel is the sole reason to go see Flight, although fans of John Goodman should turn out as well. Denzel's is a great performance trapped within a movie that at times feels stuck on the runway.
Run Time: 2 hours 18 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly, Tamara Tunie, John Goodman, Bruce Greenwood
Written & Directed by Jacob Aaron Estes (Mean Creek)
Opens locally on Friday, November 2nd, 2012.
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