Review: Flight – Denzel travels from hero to zero

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FlightDo you want to see a movie about a man’s journey through the miserable world of alcohol and drug addiction? Do you long for a grim story where the hero alienates everyone around him and loses everything he has due to his self-destructive lack of discipline and control, or does that sound like a depressing way to spend two hours at the theater? Ok, what if we threw in an awesome cool and intense plane crash to get you hooked at the beginning of the film? Now you’re talking!

If you are like me, you probably thought the new Robert Zemeckis film Flight was going to be a dramatic thriller surrounding a plane crash and the finger-pointing investigation aftermath that follows. Well, you would be right to some extent, but this film is closer to a Leaving Las Vegas or The Lost Weekend than it is to an Airport 2012.

The airplane crash at the beginning of this movie is one of the most intense film sequences you will ever see (especially if you are not particularly fond of flying in the first place.) This is some serious edge-of-your-seat movie-magic that is worth the price of admission just by itself – which is a good thing because the rest of the film is about the pilot (Denzel Washington) whose life plummets out of control after he miraculously managed to save his plane and it’s passengers from destruction.

I don’t know if the method in which the plane averts disaster in this movie is even physically or aerodynamically possible, but is sure as heck makes for a nerve-racking few minutes of fantastic filmmaking and it is allegedly based on the real-life events of the Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crash of 2000 where the pilots unsuccessfully tried to fly the plane upside-down in order to avoid their crash.

FlightWhip Whitaker (Washington) is the pilot whose life appears to be an accident waiting to happen. He’s an ex-Navy flyer, divorced, an alcoholic and drug abuser who parties heavily with the ladies from his flight crew. He’s even drinking while flying when his passenger plane suffers a catastrophic system failure and plummets from the sky.

Even though he is high on cocaine and vodka, Whip’s instincts take over and he manages to crash land the plane with minimal damage and loss of life, although 4 passengers and 2 members of the crew are killed in the accident. Everyone from the investigators to the passengers and the public agree that the pilot pulled off an impossible feat by saving the plane, but the attention soon turns to the flawed man’s alcohol abuse.

The bulk of this film is spent on Whitaker’s own downward spiral after the crash as he continues his self-destructive binge in spite of his public persona as a hero and his friends & loved ones’ efforts to help him. Despite this film’s interesting plane wreck backdrop, it is really just a movie about alcoholism and addiction, which is fine, and as usual Washington lands another incredible and gutsy performance, but I felt more than a little deceived by the marketing behind this picture.

FlightThis movie has a well-deserved R-rating (only the second of Zemeckis’ career – the other being 1980’s Used Cars) and is not for children of any age. Besides its very intense plane crash sequence, it contains very graphic drug use, nudity and otherwise adult situations. This is NOT the Zemeckis of Back to the Future and The Polar Express.

So this is a movie about substance abuse and alcoholism and as I mentioned, once you realize this, you can then accept the film on those terms – but then out of left field the narrative makes light of its addiction theme as Whip’s friend (John Goodman) is feeding the pilot drugs for laughs. This made no sense to me and I won’t even mention an absurd plot device that allows Whip to get tanked-up the night before his investigation hearing. At this point in the narrative I think writer John Gatins (Real Steel) might have been tasting his own wares.

Overall, this is a fine movie with great performances and one fantastic action sequence, but Flight is simply not the film I thought it would be, and the veiled movie about addiction that it is never gets off the ground high enough to really soar. Grade: 7/10

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