Director Robert Zemeckis eases his way back into live-action with Flight, a first-class drama starring Denzel Washington at the top of his game as an alcoholic airplane pilot that manages to successfully land a plane against all odds. Zemeckis utilizes John Gatins’ character-driven script to assemble an assortment of jaded characters that help fill the film with a variety of emotions and entertainment. Flight is sharply directed and precisely acted, with each and every piece of the film helping lead to the final confrontational showdown.
Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a seasoned pilot that has a passion for flying. He also has a bit of trouble controlling his drinking and that sometimes (actually, almost all of the time) spills into his professional life. His addiction to the bottle has no doubt played a heavy factor in his life and he’s got a child and an ex-wife that he doesn’t speak with to prove it. Still, Whip is an intelligent pilot that somehow manages to land a faulty plane against all of the odds.
He’s immediately praised as a hero, but once it all settles in he soon realizes that the investigators are going to want to pull his blood and run some tests, which would show that he had alcohol in his system on the day (and nights leading up to) the crash. Whip is now faced with a defense lawyer (Don Cheadle) and a massive load of guilt that forces him to succumb to bad habits while questioning his future and what it holds for him if he continues to go down the same path.
Robert Zemeckis picked the perfect film to return to live-action with. Flight couldn’t be any more opposite than Zemeckis’ motion-capture special effects heavy productions that he’s been dancing with over the past decade. Flight is his return to real human drama, with one of the finest talents alive, Denzel Washington, taking the film to dark places that one might not expect.
Flight is a heavy affair that tackles addiction, more specifically alcoholism head on and without bias. Through Washington’s perspective and Zemeckis’ direction we get to see the highs and lows of addiction, more importantly the struggle to give it up and continue living without relapse.
Denzel Washington‘s raw turn as Whip is demanding and at times scary. Washington sinks into the role with a sense of self-pity and regret. Whip on the outside is a fun guy that just likes to drink when he has fun, but on the inside he’s living a constant struggle against drinking and no matter how hard he tries resisting the urge he almost always returns to the bottle, because it’s the only thing that doesn’t judge him.
The crash awakens him slightly, but soon he returns to what he knows best, until he meets Nicole (Kelly Reilly); a drug addict that’s trying to stay clean after a recent overdose. The two intertwine nicely, with one of them in the early stages of recovery while the other is still denying even having a problem. Zemeckis smartly films their interactions with a lot of layered humor that helps ease the dramatic buildup that weighs down the story and the problematic characters.
Washington and Reilly share an understanding chemistry that is focused more on truth and honesty. There’s a specific scene between Reilly, Washington and another brief character in a hospital stairway that really peels back all of the coated bullshit that most addiction stories suffer from. It’s this glimpse at reality that gives the film life that I never thought it could have.
The film isn’t always depressing. John Goodman fills up what could have been a quick paycheck walk-on role with lots of flavor and humor. His first appearance on screen involves him delivering cigarettes and porn to Washington’s Whip right after the accident. It’s this old-fashioned fun time mentality that Goodman expresses without guilt or any judging that makes his character a much-needed part of the film. He also pops up for an important scene towards the end of the film that can only be described as bizarrely acceptable.
A lot of Flight can be described as a film that feels like it was shot in the 90s. The soundtrack is loaded with awesome, but slightly overplayed memorable tracks from The Rolling Stones and the drama is always played on a realistic field, with the characters never leaning too far on the completely lost and beyond help side or the completely perfect and without a problem side. There’s such a carefree feeling laid out over the entire film that never over-complicates things, even when things call for technicalities and tiny details that drive most modern people crazy.
Every single character in this film is weighed down with things that they aren’t proud of and Zemeckis does his best capturing that on the screen. Washington and Reilly’s characters might be the center of the addiction-themed story, but they’re surrounded by people that share similar addictions or at the very least understand their difficult lives, without passing complete judgment.
Flight might be advertised as a Zemeckis-directed drama that revolves around Washington’s character getting himself out of a sticky situation, but the actual film is one that focuses heavily on addiction and the depression it causes and how one event can completely change someone’s life. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Flight ended up creating some traction for Denzel Washington as a possible Oscar contender, because his performance is enthralling and demands to be seen.
Flight – 8/10