Director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future - Forrest Gump - Contact), who has been dwelling in The Uncanny Valley since 2004 with Computer Animated / Motion Capture experiments like The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol makes a return to live action filmmaking with this interesting take on the theme of alcohol and addiction. Here’s the trailer.
Denzel Washington plays Captain Whip Whitaker, an airline pilot with a strong taste for booze and cocaine, who become a national hero when he manages to land a plane that malfunctions during a storm and saves all but six of the hundred or so lives on board. When the hospital’s toxicology report finds the aforementioned substances awash in his bloodstream, the heroism of saving a hundred people fades to charges of manslaughter for the fallen six.
The film takes a very different approach to the relationship we have with drugs and alcohol. I wouldn’t say it glorifies them, but it does ask some hard questions about how so many maintain their lives in light of such addictions.
The first half hour of the film concerns the ill fated flight and the resulting crash. It’s scary stuff, and ensures that “Flight” will not be playing on any airline anytime soon.
The last half hour chronicles the hearing into the events and ultimately decides Captain Whitaker’s fate. It’s a tense and well acted event that may nab Denzel another Oscar nod.
It’s the middle hour and a half that weights this film down and keeps it grounded.
Denzel Washington turns in a fine performance. No question. However, as the film has not much else to do while waiting for the hearing to begin, we revisit just about every scenario ever played out in an alcoholic-desperately-trying-to-hold-it-together-film.
Because this is a Zemeckis film, who’s not known for holding back, we get Denzel the Super Drunk. This man can put it away. There are several shots where the camera lingers over the evenings intake of bear, liquor and cocaine, but there is so much of it, one suspects we are missing the scene where he invited a entire college football team over for a nightcap.
There are very welcome appearances by John Goodman as Captain Whitaker’s enabling drug supplier, and Don Cheadle as the lawyer tasked with the seemingly unattainable job of clearing the pilot’s name, and saving the airline from expensive lawsuit payouts. I would have loved to see more of these two, but instead we are handed a dull you-know-what’s-coming love story between the drunk airline pilot and the better-looking-then-she-should-be heroin-addict (with a heart of gold) he meets while recovering in the hospital. Yawn.
In the end, Flight is too long. The first half hour is mesmerizing. The final half hour is mesmerizing. In between, we have an hour and a half of...well...not much. By my eye, a good forty five min could have been edited out, and improved the pace of the film considerably.