Flight

PhotobucketAlive, Con Air, Fearless, The Gray, even Robert Zemeckis’ own Cast Away 12 years prior – all include horrific plane crashes as an integral component of their plot. But I will offer that Flight incorporates a disaster that ranks with the best ever filmed. I don’t have a fear of flying but this extracted long suppressed misgivings about flying I didn’t even know existed. The first 30 minutes are some of the most on the edge of your seat, horror I’ve seen all year. A description could never do the scene justice. Let’s just say, this drama will never make the in-flight entertainment on any aircraft.

A skillful pilot must make an emergency landing after technical problems arise. Flight takes an ordinary subject and crafts an extraordinary movie. This is due in no small part to Denzel Washington’s nearly flawless portrayal of seasoned airline pilot Whip Whitaker, the central character at the heart of Flight. Is he a hero? Is he a heel? After watching the film, it will prompt discussions on the very nature of a hero. Its examination of ethics pushes Flight into the stratosphere of moral dilemma dramas. You will cheer Whip’s intuitive reaction in a crisis, then chastise his abominable behavior. That Flight represents one of Denzel Washington’s greatest performances is a terrific accomplishment for an actor with such a lengthy filmography.

At heart, the story is essentially a drama about alcoholism. While that problem may seem clichéd, even passé in these modern times, screenwriter John Gatins manages to make the issue compelling again. Can this really be the same screenwriter who penned Real Steel? His previous efforts could have never prepared me for a handling with such maturity and depth. Obviously alcoholism is wrong, but the narrative takes a much more nuanced view of the affliction, as well as drug abuse he also suffers from. The brilliance lies in its ability to make you feel the full range of emotion from admiration to loathing towards the main character. He isn’t purely good or bad. People are much more complicated than that. The script tackles the responsibility with the nuance of real life. The concept is uncomplicated, but the emotions are complex.

The supporting cast is equally good at highlighting his moral predicaments: Kelly Reilly as a fellow addict he meets at the hospital, Don Cheadle as his whip smart defense lawyer, John Goodman, his drug supplier, Tamara Tunie as the head flight attendant, Brian Geraghty, his callow young co-pilot, and Melissa Leo as lead NTSB investigator. Each role exists to highlight qualities in Denzel Washington’s character, but they each individually exhibit memorable work here. There are some nagging questions the writing doesn’t address. For example, why introduce his ex-wife and son as characters, but not delve into any details regarding their intense hatred for him? Why flight attendants would knowingly board a plane of a known drunk is also a nagging question. But for every missed opportunity, there are many more moments of insight along the way.

Flight is an incredibly engrossing movie. It’s astounding just on how many levels Flight succeeds as superior entertainment. It thoughtfully combines some heart pounding set pieces with introspective drama. Robert Zemeckis hasn’t made a live action film since Cast Away in 2000. It’s great to have him back making thought-provoking movies for an older audience. The drama is refreshingly elemental. Denzel Washington extracts an impressive performance from this script to give his greatest acting achievement following Training Day. Like that role, he plays against the hero type. The way he shifts personality is masterful, blending someone to be admired vs. someone to be pitied. In this day and age where everything must be amped up to extreme intensities of excitement, Flight thankfully realizes when to pull back and simply present a mature drama. Sometimes one man’s personal journey is enough.

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31 Responses to “Flight”

  1. Great review, Mark! I loved Washington in this, and the opening sequence is so exciting and nerve-racking! I’m already a nervous flyer, so that was pretty crazy… I’ll love to check it out on Blu-Ray, or even when it comes to a local cheap-ticket theatre, just to see that stunning opening sequence. Though, my favourite of the Nov. 2 releases was Wreck-It Ralph (I’ll check your homepage to see if you have reviewed that, and if you have I’ll leave a comment.)

    • I enjoyed Wreck-It Ralph too, but loved this on a much higher level. It reminded me of classic dramas about alcoholism like The Lost Weekend and Days of Wine and Roses. It ranks up there with the best of them.

  2. I think I may see this one now.

    • You should. One of Denzel’s best.

      • I was kind of on the fence at first. The trailers looked interesting to me, but the plot seemed a bit odd, I guess. The protagonist is a drunk, right? I’m not sure I could do anything but laugh like an idiot when his plane needs to land…abnormally. Then again, it seems like all I’m hearing–universally speaking–is that he’s going to win the Best Actor Oscar. Plus I love Robert Zemeckis (save for Beowulf).

  3. I’ve got to check this one out. I’ve been tired of Zemeckis’ animated films, and this sounds like a welcome return. Nice review.

  4. Excellent review, Mark. There are questions I would have liked to discuss in my review, but I didn’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen the movie.

    ***Spoiler warning***

    For instance, Whitaker was the only one who could have landed the plane, judging from the simulated tests they mentioned. Did his cocktail of drugs and alcohol actually enhance his ability to think clearly and remain calm? Could he have done it while sober? I’m also unsure about his revelation at the hearing. It seemed a little unrealistic.

    • *** MAJOR MAJOR SPOILERS ***

      An excellent observation. It’s one of the somewhat controversial suggestions the film puts forth. At the end when he gets drunk before the hearing, the script is definitely saying that he needed to take cocaine in order to be lucid at that interview. Pretty bold to even suggest such a thing actually, especially in a major Hollywood film.

      His coming to terns with his drinking is perhaps unrealistic at that moment, but not improbable given everything that he had been through up until that point. Still, couldn’t he have dismissed her question with, “I couldn‘t possibly know whose bottles those were” without blaming anyone in particular?

      • The report stated that Trina had a 0.17 reading, and only one other reading showed alcohol (his), so she would have been implicated. I suppose we are just meant to believe that he chose that moment to confess everything. It’s possible, but not particularly likely. This is Hollywood though 🙂

  5. Excellent review Mark, I’m looking forward seeing this film. Robert Zemeckis is one of my favorite directors, can’t believe I missed all the plain crashes references in his films! So true!

    There’s a movie your review reminded me of, “Hero” with Dustin Hoffman, about a flawed man who also saved people from an airplane crash, but this one is more of a comedy.

    • Yes! I’ve seen it, but it was decades ago. I do remember it contained a pretty horrific plane crash as well. These are not films to watch before boarding an airplane.

  6. Great review… can’t wait to see this. I’m thinking of making a top 20 this year, too many great movies coming out!

    • The number of great films has increased considerably in recent weeks. We haven’t even entered the holiday season yet when most of the prestige pictures are released.

  7. excellent review as always Mark. wish i can keep up with all the latest movies. have just been too busy with family. about Denzel, i don’t recall ever seeing him give a disappointing performance or even appear in a bad film. I might be wrong. first saw him in Riccochet and ever since then, its been all good. I saw Safe House, but thought it was ok.

    • He’s been pretty consistent as of late. However, like any actor, Denzel Washington has his share of bad films. I didn’t care much for Fallen, The Bone Collector or John Q. He did a comedy with Bob Hoskins back in 1990 called Heart Condition. I never saw it, but I’ve heard it’s virtually unwatchable.

      • Hi Mark, i just recently watched this. great movie. i thought the story was very original. don’t think i have ever seen a big movie with a similar moral predicament – about a man who is afraid to admit responsibility.

        At first impression, he is a hero for saving so many lives. but then he may have also caused the loss of a few lives.

        so it’s a complex scenario.

        and to exacerbate it, the character is an alcoholic (and then some).

        a great movie with character and story depth.
        Denzel’s performance is terrific as always.

    • Like you, I appreciated the story’s deft handling of a complex subject. It wasn’t simply: Whip Whitaker is bad. No, he was a much more complex individual than that. Denzel really handled the part well.

      It’s been ages! So nice to have you commenting again, Martin.

  8. Excellent review, Mark. Reading what you have to say and seeing you give it 4 1/2 stars gives me a lot of hope for Flight. I’ll definitely be checking this one out.

  9. Great write-up Mark. I’m really looking forward to one. I’ve always enjoyed both Zemeckis’ and Washingston’s work. It sound great.

  10. So much better than I expected. Denzel puts in one of his best performances. 4 stars

  11. Great review here man. Yes, Denzel’s performance here is solid and i did cheer him and then despise him all in a matter of minutes. Agreed

  12. moviewriting Says:

    Fantastic review, Mark. I haven’t heard anything about this one, but your write up certainly got me excited about it. Hopefully I’ll be able to catch it soon!

    • It’s already done $50 million in the U.S., a decent if admittedly unspectacular total for a film directed by Robert Zemeckis. Word of mouth has been very very strong, however.

  13. I didn’t enjoy this movie. Denzel Washington made it watchable for me, in fact. I couldn’t help but hate his character–it seemed to me like he was intended to seem like a drunk, and nothing more. He was kind of flat. Even worse, the transformation he went through in the end (while he was drunk, no less) seemed extremely contrived.

    • I thought it was an incredible performance and kind of unexpected how things played out. I also really enjoyed Kelly Reilly and Don Cheadle in this. They brought interesting flaws in Denzel’s character to light.

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