Robert Zemeckis’s return to live action cinema after ten years of horrible creepy mocap CGI animation, displays his trademark technical skill and habit for painting his cinematic landscape with broad strokes.
But it’s a return we should welcome, because he is a great iconic filmmaker and screenwriter John Gatins’ Flight is an effective character study of a flawed man wading through the detritus of his life with complete disregard to others around him.
Denzel Washington’s performance of airline pilot Whip Whitaker is wholly predictable but only because we’re used to seeing excellence consistently from the man. It never feels like he’s phoning it in, he’s the 6″ version of Tom Cruise, intense performance after intense performance.
Flight is a great showcase for him as we watch Whip stumble around in one drunken stupor to another, coked out of his head; this is a man with a serious addiction problem, both aware of it but refusing to let that acknowledgement materialise into anything substantial.
The major inciting incident of the film is a plane malfunction that Whip wrangles into a controlled crash, and for a guy like me who is not a fan of flying, it was pretty fucking terrifying. Brilliantly directed, edited and acted, even if completely over the top in typical Hollywood fashion (plane flying upside down!). Soon after waking, Whip is found to have been under the influence, and yet as Don Cheadle’s lawyer exclaims later on, nobody else flying that plane under those circumstances under simulator conditions could have saved the plane the way he did.
Denzel is not so much surrounded by antagonists, but rather creates them perpetually throughout the story. It’s a brilliant and dark role, Zemeckis’s first R rated film in twenty years featuring sex, drugs and lots of alcohol poured down sinks, throats and cups. Whip’s story dovetails with a recovering heroin addict played by Kelly Reilly, and as one character tries to change their ways, the other further descends to the depths.
Whip hits rock bottom which leads to a genuinely great climax that is earned and executed well. The resolution will be disliked by some for its neat wrapping up of loose ends, a little trite and hackneyed really. Didn’t bother me too much, but it is a sticking point.
An effective drama featuring a hilarious turn by John Goodman who has the quote of the movie, Flight shows Zemickis and Washington’s lengthy careers are still flying high.