Flight is the story of, the ridiculously named, Captain Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) a somewhat ‘thirsty’ airline pilot. Whip manages to land a troubled plane, against all the odds, and becomes a media hero, but of course there’s a twist in the tale. He was drunk while flying the plane…
This is the most ‘grown up’ film that I can remember director Robert Zemeckis doing and his return to proper live action, since Cast Away, after spending the last 13 years messing about with animated zombie films (the dead eyed motion capture classics of Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol). I was in absolutely no doubt that this was going to be a more grown up film right from the first scene, Whip waking up hungover with a, naked, member of his flight crew. We’re treated to some drinking, some drug taking and a lot of nudity. There’s nothing to really grab your attention at the start of movie like a nipple looming large at the front of the shot for a good 3 minutes, although I thought it was a touch on the nose that a flight attendant would have shaved her down belows into a ‘landing strip’. Come on.
Anyway where was I?
So after something of a heavy night, and a pretty heavy morning, Whip is off to pilot the plane in a dreadful storm. What follows really is a gripping, and stressful, 20 minutes as the plane slowly falls to pieces and against all of the odds Whip lands it. It looked fantastic, well as fantastic as a terrible accident can look, but the main issue for me was that a lot of the plane crash was given away in the trailer. It’s a really clever mix of practical shots and CGI, I think it’s a really great use of CGI when you can’t tell where the reality ends and the CGI begins and Zemeckis was doing this way back in Forrest Gump and Contact. Whip manages to land the plane relatively safely by pulling out a pretty outrageous manoeuvre and we’re later told that the airline put 10 pilots into a simulator and not one of the landed the plane. So the real question throughout the film is did he manage to do what he did because of the drink and drugs or was it in spite of it?
There’s some good support from Don Cheadle, as the lawyer appointed to help out Whip. I wasn’t really sure what to make of John Goodman, playing Whip’s friend/drug dealer Harling Mays. It was a really jarring tonal shift whenever Goodman was on screen, it was like someone had told him he was in some crazy knock about comedy.
You can’t really escape that Flight was all about Denzel Washington, giving another routinely excellent performance, as a troubled man battling (not hard enough most of the time) with addiction. The rest of the film cannot possibly match up to the exhilarating opening of the plane crash, as we follow Whip’s journey from media hero for landing the plane through to when his drinking comes out and he’s placed firmly in the spotlight. The film poses some really interesting questions about religion, faith and most of all addiction. I spent such a large portion of the film being infuriated with Whip as he made one stupid choice after another, but when I looked back I had found the film to be really enjoyable and the 2+ plus hour runtime never really seemed to drag.
It’s an interesting look at a complex subject, and a pretty well trodden path in terms of cinema. It’s pretty easy to fall into the well worn clichés that go along with it, and for the most part I thought that Flight managed to navigate (pun intended) away from them, well at least up until the very end. That said I am glad it fell into cliché by the end because I think I really needed the closure that the ending provided.