Prime Oscar bait Flight is Director Robert Zemeckis’ return to live action following more than a decade producing animated and computer generated movies. The movie tells the story of a crashed aircraft and the following weeks for its functioning alcoholic pilot (Whip Whitaker) Denzel Washington. Whip is a well trained and long serving pilot who has got by all throughout his adult life despite being drunk and stoned everyday. On the morning of the fated flight he is seen drinking beer and vodka and snorting cocaine and even drinks vodka during the fifty minute flight. Despite some miraculous instinct and skill which manages to save many lives Whip is due in front of a tribunal with a failed toxicology report hanging over his head.
It’s fair to say that Flight is one of the weaker of the Oscar season films and the intense crash and admirable Washington performance are all that separate it from mediocrity. The movie is full of religious babble, poorly chosen music and a code era ending which make the excellent opening instantly forgettable and sets up an hour and a half which passes the time but does little to induce much of an emotional response past the odd laugh and one tense moment.
To start with the good, I really enjoyed the opening half an hour. The film begins with Whip in his hotel room, woken up two hours before his flight from Orlando to Atlanta. With him is the ridiculously beautiful stewardess Katerina (Nadine Valazquez) who walks around the room naked as Whip talks to his ex wife on the phone. As the two of them smoke pot and snort coke their flight time draws ever closer. On board Whip is the consummate professional although there is a blurry line drawn between knowledge and skill and recklessness during a tricky ascent. Towards the end of the flight the plane malfunctions and enters a dive from which it has no chance of recovery. This entire sequence is excellent and incredibly uncomfortable to watch as my girlfriend’s moist palms will attest to. The crash is well shot and acted but I always felt as though I was watching rather than there. Even so it was by far the best part of the movie.
Once the plane touches down and the screen fades to black the whole audience is able to breathe again and settle in for the next ninety minutes which deals with the aftermath. In amongst the legal and technical side of the plot which is, it has to be said, fairly interesting, the main thrust of the story focuses on Whip’s continuing dependence on alcohol. Denzel Washington gets across the difficulty in stopping and the repercussions of continuing to drink and makes a great screen drunk. The problem is that Flight is from a major Hollywood studio and is about a drunken airline pilot. As much as the film tries to drag out the plot, there is only one way that it will end and everybody knows it. As a result we have to sit through a fairly long film with a lot of people trying to persuade an alcoholic to get sober and him saying he is fine before suddenly realising that he isn’t and becoming all wise. It’s all so obvious. Along the way Whip meets a sort of kindred spirit in heroin addict Nicole (Kelly Reilly) and good as Reilly is, her whole arc just seemed as though she was there to show Whip the good and bad sides of addiction and sobriety.
A particular issue I have is that of the four crew on board the flight, (minus Whip) at least three of them were aware that the Pilot was either drunk or had a drink problem. Would they really have allowed him to fly, let alone flown with him. If I got into a car and the driver was obviously drunk I would get out yet three trained professionals ignored it and allowed him to fly a plane with over 100 people aboard. I just don’t find this believable. I also have serious problems with the whole act of God/religious aspect of the film and actually laughed out loud during a moment of prayer. My girlfriend also did this (she’s a keeper). A further problem is that the idea that perhaps he saved the plane from total destruction because he was wasted is never considered. It’s probable that the intoxication wouldn’t have helped but it is suggested that the cocaine cleared his head so why not suggest that it helped him to fly? This feels like an oddly overlooked area.
Apart from the obvious plot and holes my main issue with the movie is the awful choice of music. At times it sounds as though it is the work of a debut student film maker rather than a seasoned Director and crew. It is so simple and obvious. When a character with a heroin addiction spots a needle The Red Hot Chili Pepper’s famous heroin inspired song Under the Bridge plays. When Whip reaches rock bottom we are treated to Going Down by Jeff Beck and later Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers but worst of all is when Whip is given cocaine by his friends and aids to sober him up from a night of drinking, The Beatles’ With a Little Help from my Friends is used as elevator musak. The songs are great but the choices are just awful. In addition to these is The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil which spins every time John Goodman is on screen. This is a fantastic song and almost fits as Goodman comes and goes like a whirling dervish and the BPM and general ambiance of the song fits but once again the lyrics are just so obvious.
As I mentioned though, Denzel Washington is very good and he probably deserves his Oscar nomination though doesn’t deserve to win. He remains a compelling screen presence and does everything that is asked of him. Don Cheadle is also very good as the slick lawyer and John Goodman adds some light comic relief. Bruce Greenwood is solid and there is a short but very good cameo from James Badge Dale. Nadine Valazquez also stands out but for reasons aside from acting ……………………………………….. Sorry, I forgot where I was for a moment. Robert Zemeckis Directs the action sequences really well and the rest of the film is technically fine. There are a couple of nice camera reveals which include an injury which is briefly obscured and a silent and pivotal moment late on is also well done. Flight isn’t a bad film and isn’t great. It is somewhere in the middle and deserves some attention due to its opening and central performance but there are far too many problems to consider it anything above average and the end destroyed what little love I had left.
- When Whip first arrives at Nicole's apartment the rear license plate is visible (GA-CNH320) this is the same fictional plate used on the General Lee in the Dukes of Hazzard.
- The plane is a composite of various real aircraft as not to implicate any aircraft manufacturer or airline in the imagined crash
- The crash was inspired by a real life disaster, the crash of Alaska Airlines 261