Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Bruce Greenwood, Kelly Reilly, John Goodman, Melissa Leo
Running Time: 138 minutes
Release Date: February 1
After over a decade as a bastion of performance capture filming, Robert Zemeckis is back in the live action arena with Flight—a dated film that save for the sight of iPhones and LED TVs could have been released prior to his journey into rotoscoping abs on Ray Winstone. It’s enjoyable, Movie of the Week fare, but its blasé approach to serious topics is a little alarming.
Whip Whitaker is a charming, gregarious airline pilot, who when flying out of a routine short stop from Orlando to Atlanta miraculously saves the plane from an almost certain crash. Lauded as a hero, Whip’s life turns upside down when a toxicology report shows that prior to takeoff, he was as pissed as the daughter of a KPMG partner in a pizza shop.
John Gatins’ Oscar nominated script is certainly intriguing, and his decision to tackle the subject of alcoholism is admirable. At times, the easy route with alcohol depiction in movies is the rambling, incoherent drunk. The scary thing about Whip Whitaker is just how highly functioning an alcoholic he is; women love him, he’s smart with an acerbic wit, he can land nose-diving planes that no one else can while half cut. You tend to like him, he seems a fun guy to be around, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
With over a decade out of the live action gig, Zemeckis hasn’t lost any of his craft behind the camera. Whitaker’s audacious moves in safely landing the spiraling plane are wonderfully realized—contained almost entirely to the reactions of the crew and passengers before unveiling the absurd image on an inverted plane flying less than 1,000ft from the ground.
Washington’s performance is the main attraction here, elevating Flight above its hokey TV movie staples, with a turn worthy of his Oscar nomination. It’s to his credit that he’ll have you running the gamut of feelings towards him; sympathy when he’s at his most vulnerable, hatred when he’s at his most vile to cheerleading him thundering cocaine into himself to get his act together. It’s a complex high wire act that could fall apart at any moment but Denzel walks it effortlessly.
His supporting cast, sadly, don’t paint themselves in so much glory. As Whitaker’s love interest and chance at redemption, Nicole (a fairly forgettable Kelly Reilly) is a clumsily cobbled together role who goes through from heroin addict to clean and condescending in a magical twelve-step, three-scene program. Whitaker’s attorney (Don Cheadle) is equally as confusing, never entirely sure whether he wants to hang or high five Whip for his actions. Bigged up throughout as a courtroom killer, Melissa Leo’s NTSB agent screen time is pretty minimal. Give thanks so for John Goodman, a crude and crass, cyclonic scene-stealer perpetually “on the list.”
Despite its flaws, of which there are many—none more so than getting cheap laughs at people celebrating Whitaker’s vice consumption—Flight is overall perfectly passable and enjoyable, thanks in most part to Washington’s uncanny ability to carry just about any story all by himself.