Director: Robert Zemeckis
Starring: Denzel Washington, John Goodman, Don Cheadle, Kelly Reilly
Trailers; the curse of the modern day blockbuster. Half the time you’ve got some fat kid from Utah putting these things together, hoping for more hits on his Minecraft demonstration. The rest of the time you realise that if they’ve managed to condense the entire film down to two and a half minutes, you’re likely to end up walking out of the cinema disheartened. For Robert Zemeckis’ film ‘Flight’ however, the trailer dwarves at flight control managed to buck the trend with their short preview, balancing cool, comedic elements against an unmistakable air of tragedy. This helps the feature massively; you can’t anticipate the melancholy theme that is disguised in the opening scenes as Captain ‘Whip’ Whittaker comes to from a heavy night and checks into the cockpit of the doomed flight.
Whip (Denzel Washington) is a severely troubled, alcoholic pilot who becomes embroiled in a plane crash investigation, as the routine hop between Orlando and Atlanta goes awry, with a possible DUI to blame. The thrilling focal point of the film however, is over within the first 10 minutes, much like the take-off of the Boeing airliner it depicts. Soon, there is a realisation that Whip not only survived, but unbeknownst to him, has garnered minor celebrity status through his heroic actions that saved ‘a heck of a lot of lives’. The peaceful interim allows the true tone of the film to shine through as Whip begins to understand the severity of the investigation. As the investigation in to Whip’s suitability in charge of an aircraft intensifies, we see the character regress and consistently fall in to the depths of denial. It is herein where the film succeeds; portraying a mental clash between Whip and his addictive personality, with most of the emotive sequences focussing their attention on Whip’s solitary battle against his demons rather than the widespread damage of the crash.
The trauma in Whip’s life has derived from his lying, yet in an intriguing script that offers much in the way of punchlines and pacey dialogue; it is a refusal to speak which packs the knockout blow. All Whip has to do is tell one more lie, and remain sober throughout the trial and he will walk away a free man. Despite all his efforts, lawyer Hugh Lang (Don Cheadle) fails to drive Whip to commit to the sobriety or the lie. The supreme effort with which Lang coaxes the lie in to being is surmised in a fantastical scene, where he employs the services of hippie Harling Mays (John Goodman) to practically restart the heart of Whip using a cocktail of cocaine and cigarettes. The coco puff is born, yet the outcome is the written in the sky. Whip knows he can’t take another binge that this last shameful lie would induce, and so, dedicates himself to the truth and the bottle, win-win.
John Goodman has always intrigued me, because no matter what the film concerns, he manages to bully his own style in to the director’s vision. If he was the bully at school, I for one would consistently refuse his demands for lunch money, just to see him get comically worked up. In ‘Flight’ the same is true, without some of the energy he brings, the film would feel slightly noir. The star vehicle, Denzel, is acting out of his skin in some scenes, with Whip exuding an odd charisma and an ill-placed confidence in his ability. As a viewer I was practically grasping at the screen in the closing scenes, where the choice between ‘hefty mini-bar tab’ and ‘go out with a bang Whip style’ is made. As love interest Nicole, Kelly Reilly has the good-girl-gone-bad vibe sewn up, producing the façade of that southern darling almost at will. So much so, that your mind would briefly visit the prospect of taking her home to meet the parents, but then rationality would step in to highlight the fact she is a former crack-whore that lives out of her car. All that and you’d still be annoyed at rationality.
I have to commend the achievements of the score throughout, with the non-diegetic pulse really inflating the film in its flatter moments. As soon as ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ kicks in you feel like racking up a line and going to wait in the airport lounge for the red-eyed air hostesses in a new city, just for one night. But no sooner have we allowed our ludicrous fantasies to seep in, and the plot becomes rather confused, as though the pilot has gone Whip-style-rogue on us. In some ways, this film doesn’t really know what genre it is. The trailer deceives some kind of dark, action, comedy, yet the Zemeckis influence would place it in fictional, biopic territory. The dramatic, engaging moments in the film are solely Whip’s, just as the drama on the binge is purely insular. The rock and roll scenes are performed well, with great comic timing, but the film suffers because of it, losing its way and becoming frustratingly predictable.
Whilst we’re still desperate for Whip to leave the mini bottle of grey goose, we are always aware he’s going to take it. The only redeeming qualities are those scenes which build on either pitiful or rousing elements. It’s just a shame that there isn’t enough of either to keep the film in check. And so, much like any other flight, we descend down and complete a safe landing. Some would say you can’t end it any other way due to the films inherent desire for a moral compass, but Denzel is charismatic enough that you could have let the lie continue a little longer, just to see one more binge.