Movie Review: Flight

Stars: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman

Rated R for drug and alcohol abuse, language, sexuality/nudity and an intense action sequence, Running time 138 minutes, Drama

Compare to: Blow (2001)

It’s always interesting to see what director Robert Zemeckis is up to. His more recent forays into motion capture CGI (Mars Needs Moms, Beowulf, The Polar Express) have been…lacking. But his other work is always worth the time and money spent (Back to the Future to Forest Gump and Castaway). So is Flight worth the same you may have put into the movies listed? Sure, if you’ve got two and half hours, a love for Denzel Washington, and don’t mind watching him abuse alcohol for the duration of said time.

Flight is a good movie. But when so much time of the film is spent on a singular aspect that the trailer hardly even hinted at, you may feel by the end of the film that you paid for a movie you didn’t end up watching.

William “Whip” Whitaker is a pilot with a love for alcohol, cocaine, and also happens to be an airline captain. While on a flight from Orlando to Atlanta, the plane Whip is in control of experiences turbulence that has them nosediving toward the ground. After landing the plane in a situation no one thought they would walk away from, Whip initially seems heroic. But the limelight fades fast as Whip is put under scrutiny after it’s revealed he’d been under the influence during the flight. Reporters, lawyers, the public and everybody else soon makes a up a mob that let’s him know his life will never be the same.

I have to say that this is the first time it seems Washington has more or less become the character he was playing rather than the character becoming him. His usual bravado turns any character from what’s supposed to be a troubled everyman into…Denzel. Yet Flight really lets us see Washington put on a different game face, and it ain’t pretty. The character of Whip is a complicated one. Under control one minute, the next has him passing out from binge drinking and waking up in a stupor. That may not sound complicated in itself but under Washington’s attitude of “I got this” coupled with his aptitude of showing us what a great liar he is seconds later let you feel as though he really could be an alcoholic because even he seems to believe what he says.

Kelly Reilly gives us a convincing performance also, as the heroin-addicted Nicole, a woman whose own past is even murkier than Whip’s, albeit without the high-society perks of being an airline pilot. Their relationship in the movie is somewhat brief although interesting and sad; a side-effect of putting your vices before the people you care about.

And “sad” is the name of the game in this one. How long someone can stand to watch Washington repeat the same mistakes over and over makes us feel like he should be punished for the things he does in this. Much like The Wrestler (2008), no matter how much better you want him to do, he just won’t get things right, eventually leading us to feel like many of those close to the character do: Just go away.

The problem here is the run time and the feeling of stagnancy one may feel while watching a man destroy himself over the course of a couple months. Set to the music of The Rolling Stones, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Joe Cocker, at times it’s almost as though we’re supposed to root for Washington after ingesting a bunch of coke so as to “balance” himself out. And we do this for over two and half hours. Up and down, up and down. It’s exhausting as it’s meant to be, but is it entertaining? You’ll be glad for it all to be over. This is an example of a character’s emotions projecting onto us not having the best results.

Don’t let the trailer fool you and prepare yourself for a bumpy ride (no pun intended). If you do that, you may have a better outlook on this movie than I did.

Grade: C+


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