From the trailers, "Flight" looked like it was going to be a riveting thriller about a pilot that saved the lives of many people during a plane crash, despite the pilot having been under the influence of alcohol. But the end result is a film that tends to wallow in its own despair.
Whip Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is a pilot who can keep cool and calm under pressure ... as long as he's had a few drinks or a hit of cocaine in him. When the plane he's flying suffers a technical, potentially fatal glitch, Whitaker maneuvers the plane in such a way he saves the lives of nearly everyone on board. But when it's revealed that alcohol was found in Whitaker's blood, people begin to question his competency and whether he was ultimately the cause of the flight to fail in the first place. During this, he finds refuge in an addict who is trying to straighten herself up, a person that may be his only hope at redemption.
Despite the underwhelming (and overlong) nature of the film itself, the greatness of Washington's performance cannot be denied. He portrays a man so caught up by his own addiction he doesn't realize it himself. His doubt and self-loathing are palpable and his determination - and multiple failures - at controlling his own substance abuse is pitiful. He's a man who doesn't realize how completely broken he is. It's a great performance and one that will garner him a few nominations. John Goodman also gives a great turn as Washington's wingman, so to speak, who's always there to give him the illicit substances he needs.
Speaking of illicit substances, "Flight" can't seem to make up its mind on whether they are good or bad. Washington's character finds himself in trouble because of his blood-alcohol content, but the film also suggests that no one knows if it didn't actually help him in landing the plane, for the most part, safely.
One of the reasons I was so excited for "Flight" was because of director Robert Zemeckis, who's helmed such as classics as "Back to the Future," "Forrest Gump" and "Cast Away." The man clearly knows how to tell a compelling story. And it's not that "Flight" isn't compelling - it is - just not in the way I was hoping for. As other critics have pointed out, it's more of a character study on a broken man, than a look inside the aftermath of a plane crash. The crash is actually a secondary story here. Whitaker and all his demons are put up front and center for people to be either repulsed or moved by. It's a story of redemption and how people deal with their own problems. Yet I still think "Flight" would have been a better movie had its running length been knocked down by about 20 minutes.
It's not an awful movie by any means. It has heart, interesting characters and a decent premise. It's just one that I couldn't fully commit myself to. The biggest recommendation I can give is a shrug of my shoulders and a request to check it out for yourself.
Scott Viau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.