Flight (2013)

Flight (2013)

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Oh look, a plane.
Oh look, a plane.

Twitter Plot Summary: Denzel Washington deals with his addictions after saving most of his passengers following a plane malfunction.

Genre: Drama

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Key Cast: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Bruce Greenwood, John Goodman, Don Cheadle.

Five Point Summary:

1. A gratuitous shot of a topless woman. A statement of intent from Mr Zemeckis, perhaps?
2. The plane crash. That’s some compelling cinema right there.
3. John Goodman. Is he in the right film?
4.  It’s slowed down quite a bit, and Denzel is chewing his gums again to signify internal struggle.
5. Finally, the hearing. It feels like it’s taken forever to reach this point. Worth it though.

Flight marks the return of Robert Zemeckis to live action cinema (his previous efforts in the last decade have been Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol), and it’s a strong return. Denzel Washington plays Whip Whitaker, an airline pilot who is addicted to alcohol and hard drugs yet is still incredibly capable in his job. He’s in a relationship with stewardess Katerina who works on his flight crew (handy, that), and within a few minutes of meeting both of them we know they’re clearly not role models – the cocaine is a bit of a giveaway.

The big set piece is, of course, Whitaker crash-landing the plane and saving most of the passengers and crew after a malfunction takes it out of the skies. It’s an impressive few minutes of film, yet surprisingly comes incredibly early on in the narrative. The reminder of the film is spent dealing with the aftermath, the ensuing investigation and a character study of Whitaker and, to a much smaller extent, Kelly Reilly’s recovering drug addict Nicole. Strong performances from everyone make up for the fact you kind of know where the story is heading towards, and John Goodman adds an air of levity to proceedings that would have been sorely missing if his character wasn’t there to liven things up. Drama’s fine, but without Goodman it would lapse into a dull melodrama rather than the exercise in character study that this is.

"He's chewing his gums again!"
“He’s chewing his gums again!”

In support are Kelly Reilly who, as Nicole, takes the role of the good angel whispering in Whitaker’s ear, despite her own issues with drug abuse and addiction. Her character is never allowed to develop much beyond this, but I think she’s just there to act as a counterpoint to Whitaker’s addictive personality and to further emphasise how far down the wrong path he has travelled, despite his own best intentions to quit everything and start afresh. If nothing else, it’s evidence that giving up on your addictions is a lot harder than most give it credit for. Further support is provided by Don Cheadle as Whitaker’s lawyer, and Bruce Greenwood (he of JJ Abrams Star Trek fame) as one of Whitaker’s oldest friends and someone who’s also involved in the crash investigation. They’re aware of Whitaker’s struggles with addiction and do their best to support him, but he’s more concerned with trying to make amends with his ex-wife and son. And get high and get drunk, of course.

If there are any complaints to level at Flight, it’s that it’s probably half an hour too long. Whilst it remains engaging from start to finish, you can’t help but feel that trimming the story down just a little would have given it a bit more oomph, especially after the early drama of the plane crash. But then it wouldn’t work as a comment on redemption and all that jazz if we just jumped straight to the point. So it’s obviously not perfect, but it’s a return to form for Zemeckis as far as live action fare is concerned, and it’s a dazzling performance from Denzel Washington, even if he does his usual thing of chewing his gums.

Favourite scene: Whitaker is sober ahead of his appearance at the hearing. Then he discovers the door to the connecting hotel room is open and it has a fully stocked minibar full of alcohol…

Quote: “The FAA and the NTSB took 10 pilots, placed them in simulators, recreated the events that led to this plane falling out of the sky. Do you know how many of them were able to safely land the planes? Not one. Every pilot crashed the aircraft, killed everybody on board. You were the only one who could do it!”

Silly Moment: The amount of times Whitaker gives up alcohol and drugs only to go back to them 10 minutes later.

Score: 4/5

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