Sunday, December 2, 2012

Denzel Behaving Badly: A Pilot Under The Influence

Movie Review: Flight

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Reviewed: 13 November 2012

jamesintexas rating--**

Despite the best efforts of Denzel Washington, "Flight" stalls before take-off, never reaching lofty heights.  Robert Zemeckis curiously directs this film, and though the airplane disaster is filmed with intensity and skill, the rest of the film fails to reach any sort of emotional power.

The script raises an intriguing question.  What if the person responsible for saving hundreds of lives was also the person partially responsible for putting them at risk?  What if we found out that Captain Sully who landed the Miracle on the Hudson was high at the time?

An elaborate backstory is set up for Whip Whitaker, a boozing, drug-using pilot who takes the controls while still recovering from the night before.  When a terrible incident occurs in the air, Whip makes choices that end up saving nearly everyone on the plane.  But, in the aftermath and investigation, his addictions come out, leading to serious questions about how far he (and those around him) are willing to go to hide the truth.  "Flight" feels like director Robert Zemeckis trying to be gritty, showing us Denzel Washington behaving badly, having John Goodman march into the film to "Sympathy for the Devil" by the Rolling Stones while rattling off so many drug names that I have never even heard of, clumsily layering Red Hot Chili Peppers' songs from 1992 over a drug scene, having a supporting character semi-involved with the porn industry.  Kelly (Nicole Reilly) is introduced as a fellow addict and given very little to do as Whip's friend.  Her story line is particularly unsatisfying.  

The story is less about the process of recovery than I would have hoped.  There are marvelous actors in supporting roles (Melissa Leo and Don Cheadle) who have little to do.  The plot hinges on a joining door in a hotel room being left open, which just feels lazy.  Whip put lives in danger every time that he flew under the influence some sort of drug or alcohol, and the film glosses over why his crew, especially Margaret (Tamara Tunie) would lie for him and protect him for so many years.

There is little sense to make of why Whip was able to invert the plane and save so many lives.  Perhaps there is no reason.  It could have been luck.  However, the same creative quick-thinking resides in the mind of the man whose aggressiveness and stubbornness, whether alcohol and drug-fueled or not, allowed him to take the controls while not at his best.

I like a quiet conversation in the stairwell of a hospital best in this film, with two characters getting to know each other through a third.  I like that this film is about serious things: addiction, enabling, fleeing from the truth.  Denzel Washington is always credible and here he is strong, probably nomination-worthy.  The ending of the film is not earned, and the emotion for me is simply not there.

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